Greens to State Dept: Redo Keystone XL report

The petitioners include the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, National Wildlife Federation, Center for Biological Diversity and Bold Nebraska.

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"The Department has received the letter from environmental groups," a State Department official said. "The SEIS process is designed to identify and analyze multiple environmental issues, including climate change, and that work is already underway. The Department is currently working towards a Final SEIS, incorporating the requisite analysis and more than 1.2 million public comments received.  The Department of State continues to review the Presidential Permit application for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in a rigorous, transparent, and efficient manner."

The letter to State was dated June 24 — before President Obama’s Tuesday climate speech, in which he said the controversial pipeline should be rejected if it “significantly exacerbates” carbon pollution.

That verbiage was ambiguous enough to leave much room for interpretation.

Some project supporters were comforted that Obama used the “significantly” threshold. That’s because State’s March draft assessment said Keystone wouldn’t substantially bump greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmental organizations, however, said that draft has “been widely disputed, not only by the undersigned groups but by the scientific community, industry analysts, and the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Those groups hope that triggering a new review would allow State to change the scope of its analysis to use greenhouse gas emissions as the defining metric. The previous draft did not consider the greenhouse gas emissions impact of developing oil sands across the border.

Some of the pipeline’s industry supporters are fearful of that prospect.

They cast the environmental community’s move as a way to delay the federal government’s decision on whether to give Keystone builder TransCanada Corp. a cross-border permit to complete the pipeline.

“They’re recycling tired, debunked material in an effort to further delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline,” Matt Dempsey, a spokesman with industry group Oil Sands Fact Check, said in a Thursday statement.

“Let’s not forget that they’ve failed on many of these tactics before,” he said.

But green groups have expressed hope that Secretary of State John Kerry will be conducive to taking another look at emissions. Kerry, who environmental organizations say is an active voice on climate issues, had been in office less than a month when the draft review was released.

State’s draft review said oil demand would bring carbon-heavy oil sands out of the ground regardless of whether Keystone is built. It said rail, trucks and other pipelines would carry the crude to market.

The green groups argue that finding is inaccurate, alleging much had to do with the consulting firm State chose. They say that contractor has oil industry ties.

In its filing with State, the green groups include April comments from Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in which he said relying on rail instead of pipelines would hinder oil sands production.

The groups characterize that statement as undercutting State’s draft finding, which said Keystone would not accelerate oil sands development.

The EPA also has questioned State’s draft analysis. It said State used an outdated economic model to conclude that oil sands production would occur at largely the same clip with or without Keystone.

Updated at 6:44 p.m.