Groups seek health study for Keystone XL

Two national health associations have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that his agency study the public health impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline project before the Obama administration decides whether to approve the permit for its construction.

The American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials sent the letter Friday, urging a “comprehensive study of the health impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, including a review of the available peer-reviewed research on the health impacts from the processing of tar sands.”

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) announced the letter in a conference call with reporters. It came weeks after Boxer and Whitehouse unveiled research saying that the pipeline would increase the likelihood that nearby residents would get cancer and heart disease.

“We feel … that children and families in the United States have a right to know how greatly expanding the importation of tar sands into our country is going to affect their lives,” Boxer said Friday.

“We believe there has not been enough focus on human health, those impacts of tar sands,” she said.

The pipeline is planned to bring oil from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Boxer said the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil sands petroleum, a 45 percent increase from the current volume coming into the country.

“The report that the State Department relies on concedes that the tar sands fuel that will run through this pipeline would be the carbon equivalent of adding 5.7 million cars to our roads,” Whitehouse said. “When we’re trying to move our carbon footprint in the opposite direction … it’s a very, very, consequential decision.”

Whitehouse said the environment regarding the decision has become very politicized and encouraged the administration to make its decision carefully.

“Don’t be steamrolled, take a careful look,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here.”

Boxer and Whitehouse held their call the day after 11 Senate Democrats, led by Mary Landrieu (La.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), wrote to Obama urging him to approve the pipeline quickly.

Responding to the letter, Boxer said, “our colleagues have a right to their opinion, and we have a right to ours.”

The State Department is currently considering the permit and is expected to finish its review next month. Kerry will then send a recommendation to Obama, who will make the final call.