EPA balks at State's 'insufficient' review of Keystone XL route

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objected Monday to the State Department’s draft review of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline route, saying it included “insufficient information” on environmental issues.

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In a comment on the State Department’s draft environmental impact statement for the project, EPA said Foggy Bottom failed to fully consider alternative routes for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

EPA said the draft review “does not provide a detailed analysis of the Keystone Corridor Alternative routes, which would parallel the existing Keystone Pipeline and likely further reduce potential environmental impacts to groundwater resources.”

Further, EPA urged the State Department to revisit its suggestion that Keystone would not expedite production of Canada’s carbon-intensive oil sands or significantly ramp up greenhouse gas emissions — two major assertions made by the pipeline's critics.

It said the State Department used an outdated “energy-economic modeling effort” in its analysis that concluded oil sands would find its way to market without Keystone — likely through rail transport.

“Because the market analysis is so central to this key conclusion, we think it is important that it be as complete and accurate as possible,” EPA said, later adding, “we recommend that the Final EIS provide a more careful review of the market analysis and rail transport options.”

EPA’s comment was one of many submitted on the State Department’s draft environmental impact statement for Keystone. That comment period ended Monday.

The State Department draft review studied the environmental impacts of TransCanada Corp.’s reconfigured Keystone XL route.

The pipeline builder altered Keystone XL's path to avoid the highly erodible Sand Hills region and much of the Ogallala Aquifer, a large groundwater resource in the Great Plains region, when President Obama denied it a cross-border permit in 2011.

Pipeline opponents — largely green and progressive groups — say the project still runs through the Ogallala Aquifer. Alternative routes would allow Keystone to avoid it, EPA concurred.

But the agency said the State Department excluded such paths because they were “determined not to be reasonable alternatives primarily on the basis that these routes are longer than the proposed Project's route.”

EPA urged the State Department to fully vet other options.

“As we have indicated in the past, we believe these alternative routes could further reduce risks to groundwater resources. We recommend that the Final EIS (environmental impact statement) either provide more detailed information as to why these alternatives were not considered reasonable or analyze these alternatives in more detail,” EPA said.

Green groups quickly circulated the comment Monday, using it to underscore a State Department process they have called flawed.

The State Department will review comments from EPA and others before moving to finalize its draft report. It will then determine whether the pipeline's construction is in the national interest 90 days later.

That so-called determination of national interest will signal whether the Obama administration plans to approve the pipeline by giving TransCanada Corp. the presidential permit its needs to complete Keystone’s northern leg.

Industry, business and labor groups who support the project have expressed optimism that the State Department will endorse the project in light of the relatively positive environmental grade it gave Keystone in the draft review.

Keystone opponents already are engaging in civil disobedience training in case the State Department signals a green light. Read about that here.