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Thursday, July 22, 2010

EPA: Send Keystone Environmental Impact Study Back to Drawing Board

TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline faces some serious problems. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has declared the pipeline "would be a step in the wrong direction, undermining the President’s efforts to move America to a clean energy economy." The folks who plan to make the steel for Keystone XL produced all sorts of defective steel for other pipelines between 2007 and 2009.

And now the Environmental Protection Agency has said the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Keystone XL is inadequate.

"Inadequate"—that's govspeak for "It sucks." EPA only has three categories for rating the adequacy of DEIS's: "inadequate" is the lowest rating possible. To provoke one government agency to so directly contradict another, the State Department must really have failed to do its homework on Keystone XL.

The opening statement from EPA's letter to State:

[W]e think that the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis to fully inform decision makers and the public, and recommend that additional information and analysis be provided. The topics on which we believe additional information and analysis are necessary include the purpose and need for the project, potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the project, air pollutant emissions at the receiving refineries, pipeline safety/spill response, potential impacts to environmental justice communities, wetlands and migratory birds [Environmental Protection Agency, letter to State Department, 2010.07.16].

Pipeline spills— like the 3300-gallon spill that contaminated Belle Creek in southeastern Montana last November and cost Texas-based Encore Operating a $93K fine. EPA notes that TransCanada won't tell us what mystery chemicals it plans to mix with the tar sands oil to make it flow through the pipeline, sicne the mix of "cutter stock" is declared "proprietary." Keeping that information secret makes it difficult to calculate the full impact of spills on the environment and to plan proper safety and clean-up responses when (not if) a spill happens.

EPA says the State Department takes far too narrow a view of the impact of Keystone XL on the environment and our long-term energy security:

Alongside the national security benefits of importing crude oil from a stable trading partner, we believe the national security implications of expanding the Nation's long-term commitment to a relatively high carbon source of oil should also be considered [EPA, 2010].

On greenhouse gases, EPA says State only calculates the impact of construction and operation of the pipeline and refining on our end. EPA suggests State include the emissions at the Canadian end as well. EPA estimates that converting tar sands into pipable oil will emit 27 million metric tons of CO2 above the emissions of normal crude oil production. Says EPA, that's equivalent to firing up seven new coal-fired power plants.

Dang—that's what I've been saying!

Review the full list of EPA recommendations for bringing the DEIS up to snuff, and you'll see that EPA is not saying that Uncle Sam should shut down Keystone XL. But EPA is saying that if we are going to permit Keystone XL, we need a lot more rigorous science to understand, plan for, and mitigate its drastic impact on our environment and our energy security.

Related: In a press release, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem connects the EPA's letter and the curent administration's "coddling" of TransCanada. Heidepriem notes that he supported but Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard and his boss opposed a two-cent-per-barrel tax on pipeline oil to cover the cost of spill clean-up and a cancellation of millions of dollars tax refunds for the Keystone pipeline projects.

  1. TransCanada doesn't think Keystone XL needs any more studies.
  2. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach spent $55,800 earlier this month to buy a Washington Post ad defending the project from Congressional criticism. I wonder how much of the public coffers he'll spend lobbying the EPA on behalf of Big Oil.
  3. The Sierra Club "applaud[s] EPA's scrutiny" and calls EPA's ruling a "game changer."
  4. Some nice people in Nebraska are applauding as well.

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