First 100,000 Keystone comments reveal intensity of fight over oil sands pipeline

The State Department has begun making available over 1.2 million public comments received on its analysis of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, providing a glimpse into the intense political and organizing battle around the project.

The department announced late Thursday night that it had posted, on Regulations.gov, roughly 100,000 of the comments received on its March 1 draft environmental review. More will surface on the site weekly.

The initial batch shows large volumes of form letters to State organized by industry and environmental groups such as the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund, the industry-backed Institute for Energy Research, and others.

Public comments corralled by the API – through its “Energy Citizens” campaign – appeal to Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryPower restored at Turkish air base used in anti-ISIS fight Don't expect much of a post-convention bounce for Trump or Clinton Kerry: Power at Turkish air base to be restored shortly MORE’s military history.

“As a military veteran and a well‐known supporter of military personnel, veterans and their families, you understand the importance of protecting our national security. Approving the Keystone XL pipeline would directly enhance America's security, diminishing our dependence on unfriendly foreign oil states and strengthening our relationship with our next‐door neighbor and longtime ally, Canada,” states the form letters submitted by the API.

But public comments organized through environmental groups say Keystone would worsen climate change.

“It's impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously investing in the dirtiest, most carbon‐intensive fossil fuels on the planet. The administration's bold advances in clean energy and vehicle efficiency have been critical, but much of that progress – and the credit that comes with it – will be erased if we also develop the tar sands,” states letters submitted through the Sierra Club.

The State Department is leading the federal review of the proposed pipeline, but the ultimate decision is expected to come from the West Wing later this year.

Keystone is the subject of an intense and well-funded lobbying and grassroots organizing battle.

Business groups and a number of unions are pushing for the pipeline's federal approval, while environmental groups have made blocking the project a top priority.

State on Thursday called the number of comments received on its draft environmental review “unprecedented.”

State’s March draft study dealt a blow to green groups opposing TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline, which would bring oil sands crude from Alberta over the border and through several states en route to Gulf Coast refineries.

In particular, State’s analysis found that approving or rejecting Keystone would have little effect on the rate of Canadian oil sands development – a conclusion that industry advocates of the pipeline have seized upon.

“Canada will develop their oil reserves regardless of your decision about Keystone XL, and the oil will find its way to dirtier refineries in China via less efficient tankers,” the Institute for Energy Research, which is partially funded by energy companies, said in public comments it organized.

But environmentalists argue that State botched the analysis and that Keystone would be a major catalyst for expansion of the carbon-intensive oil sands projects.

“I am deeply disappointed and distressed that your State Department has produced an environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that ignores the climate impacts of extracting the dirtiest fuel on the planet,” states letters organized by the Natural Resources Defense Council and addressed to President Obama.

State’s decision to make all the comments available marks a reversal for the department, which had drawn criticism from activists.

“This marks the first time the Department has made all individual comments on a Presidential Permit application available to the public. The Department decided to post these comments as part of its continued effort to maximize transparency in the federal Presidential Permit review process,” the department said Thursday night when announcing the initial batch of comments were posted.

Inside Climate News reported the decision to post all the comments online in late April.