Keystone XL pipeline clears hurdle as State report downplays climate impact

A draft State Department report concludes that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not speed up development of Canada’s oil sands, dealing a blow to environmentalists who claim Keystone would worsen climate change.

The report from the State Department says the Canada-to-Texas pipeline would have little impact on the environment.

“Approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area," the report says.

That line infuriated green groups, which have made the case that approving the full Keystone pipeline would lock in expanded development of carbon-intensive oil sands projects and the expanded use of the fuels, worsening climate change over time.

“The Sierra Club is outraged by the State Department’s deeply flawed analysis today and what can only be interpreted as lip service to one of the greatest threats to our children’s future: climate disruption,” Michael Brune, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, stressed in a Friday press call that the draft is not final and simply intended to start a “public debate.”

But Republicans and industry groups were quick to trumpet another step forward for the long-delayed project, which would bring oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.  

“No matter how many times [the project] is reviewed, the result is the same: no significant environmental impact,” Marty Durbin, the executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, said. “The latest impact statement from the State Department puts this important, job-creating project one step closer to reality."

The report quickly fueled renewed GOP pressure on President Obama to approve the pipeline.

“Today’s report again makes clear there is no reason for this critical pipeline to be blocked one more day. After four years of needless delays, it is time for President Obama to stand up for middle-class jobs and energy security and approve the Keystone pipeline,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Republicans, major business groups and a number of unions tout construction jobs that the project would bring and say it would boost security by strengthening energy ties to a friendly neighbor.

The draft’s “findings confirm what we already knew – this pipeline is safe and in the best interest of the American people. There are no legitimate reasons not to move forward on the landmark jobs project,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE (R-Ky.) said in a statement.

Environmentalists have tried to rally opposition to the pipeline with visible protests in Washington, and they disputed the report’s conclusion that approving or denying the project would not have a “substantial impact” on the rate of oil sands development.

“If Keystone XL wouldn’t speed tar sands development, why are oil companies pouring millions into lobbying and political contributions to build it?” said Jim Lyon, vice president for conservation policy with the National Wildlife Federation.

The State Department’s final decision on the pipeline is not expected until this summer.

The project has powerful backers from the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Some union allies of the president also support the project because it would create jobs for their members.

Environmental groups have made the Keystone project their litmus test for whether Obama is serious about tackling climate change in his second term. Tome liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill have echoed that message.

“The president cannot tell us that he is concerned about global warming and approve the Keystone XL project. I again call on the president to reject this dangerous project and continue moving our nation toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.) said in a Friday statement.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerKamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response Billionaire Steyer to push for Dem House push MORE (D-Calif.) pledged to take a look at the draft but said she still has concerns.

“I continue to be very concerned about the contribution that the Keystone XL pipeline would make to dangerous climate change,” she said in a statement.

— Updated at 6:19 p.m.