Friday, July 23, 2010

EPA slams State Department DEIS for Keystone XL, recommends delay in approval

WASHINGTON – In a politically astute move that was widely anticipated, the Environmental Protection Agency in a July 6 letter took the U.S. State Department off the hook by recommending a delay in approval of construction of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.
If the State Department accepts the recommendation, it can delay a decision on the controversial pipeline until after fall elections.
In recommending a delay in approval, the Environmental Protection Agency said the draft environmental impact study for TransCanada Corp.'s proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is inadequate and should be revised.
Keystone XL would move bitumen from Alberta, Canada, down through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska in the upper Great Plains. It would then merge with the Keystone pipeline under construction in Kansas before splitting off again to pass through Oklahoma to end at the largest U.S. refining complex in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.
Environmental groups have raised concerns that the pipeline could pollute air and water supplies and harm migratory birds and other wildlife. They have also speculated about what they consider inadequate pipeline safety and emergency spill response.
In a letter to the State Department, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, Cynthia Giles, said the draft environmental impact statement failed to adequately address those concerns.
The impact from "air emissions from refineries and the potential contamination of drinking water supplies from an oil spill have not been fully evaluated," Giles said in the letter.
She also said the study also does not "evaluate the environmental justice issues associated with potential impacts to communities in Port Arthur, Texas, where numerous industrial facilities, including chemical plants and a hazardous waste incinerator, are contributing to the residents' overall exposure to contaminants."
The agency said the State Department should revise the study and open it up for more public comment.
TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said the company disagrees and that the State Department "did a thorough and complete job in preparing the Draft EIS."
He said TransCanada looked "forward to the environmental review process continuing through DOS's review of comments and preparation of the Final EIS."
The EPA sent its report to the State Department, which has to approve the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
The State Department is reviewing comments from eight agencies on the draft environmental report. The public comment period on the current draft document ended July 2.
"The State Department seriously considers all public comments received as part of the public comment process. However, we will not have a detailed response until we complete the review process," State Department spokeswoman Jill W. Dietrich said in an e-mail.
Keystone XL will move diluted bitumen from Alberta, Canada, down through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska in the upper Great Plains, and then from Oklahoma to Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico. Under its planned route, the pipeline would cross several rivers and aquifers, including the Ogallala aquifer which supplies water to several Midwestern states.
TransCanada has said the pipeline would provide a reliable source of oil to the U.S. from a stable trading partner and would not adversely affect the environment.
Cunha has said construction of Keystone XL should provide more than $20 billion in new spending to the U.S. economy and more than $585 million in state and local taxes in states along the pipeline route.
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of international programs for the National Resources Defense Council, said the environmental advocacy group was "happy to see how seriously EPA was taking the environmental and public health concerns around the pipeline," and said other pipelines have not undergone such scrutiny.
Keystone has already won approval for pipelines that move oil from Canada through the Dakotas, Nebraska and Missouri to Illinois, as well as for the section being built in Kansas.
"But of course... the first Keystone was under the Bush administration, and the goal of the Bush administration was to push it through as quickly as possible," she said.
She said NRDC has asked the State Department to release correspondence from other federal agencies that have responded to the Keystone XL proposal but had not seen any of those.
EPA gave the State Department’s draft EIS its lowest possible rating. EPA recommended that the State Department provide new analysis and information in a revised draft environmental impact statement that will circulate for public review. This means additional time for analysis and reflection. EPA also says that the proposal is a potential candidate for referral to the White House Council on Environmental Quality - the office responsible for developing recommendations when there are disagreements among agencies.

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