Foreign Policy Blogs

EPA Slams State over XL Pipeline

XL Protest

In addition to being Earth Day, yesterday was the end of the State Department’s 45-day comment period on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. Among the 800,000 comments is a letter to State from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is not particularly happy with the analysis State has done, and this gives the environmental lobby an ally inside the U.S. government. While I still expect the pipeline to get approval from State, this may make things interesting.

The first signs that State is taking the EPA’s objections seriously came from Nicole Gaouette and Margaret Talev at Bloomberg, who reported last week, “The State Department will post all public comments on its review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on a website,” reversing its position, according to a department official.

“The department, which in March said it wouldn’t release the comments, also will provide additional opportunities for public input during the National Interest Determination period, said Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs,” according to the Bloomberg reporters.

These developments are important for a couple of reasons. First, State needs this to be seen as an open and honest public procedure. Lawsuits will inevitably follow approval of the pipeline, and any shortcoming in the process will give the courts a reason to get in the way. Second, by allowing for more comments during the NID period, pro-pipeline forces are able to continue pulling things their way. Let me be clear — I think State wants the pipeline. I have heard it from more than one person there.

That said, the EPA’s letter has two main objections. First, the EPA challenges the assertion that, with or without the pipeline, Canada will develop the oil sands (tar sands for those of us who remember the first time this resource cropped up back in the 1980s). The second objection is that construction of the pipeline will have little effect on climate change.

I am not convinced that either of these objections is air-tight. I have heard from Ken Hughes himself (Alberta’s Energy Minister) that his province is going to develop the oil sands to the fullest extent, and if the Yanks don’t want a pipeline, he’ll build one going a different direction. If nothing else, he’ll put the stuff in tanker trucks and on trains to sell it.

As for the climate change argument, if the Albertans are going to develop the oil sands and ship it however they must, the existence of the XL pipeline is a rather moot point. Sending the oil west to Asia or north to the Arctic for shipment still results in the stuff being burned and the carbon being released. The key to halting environmental degradation by halting the development of the oil sands is not this pipeline fight in Washington. It is in the provincial legislature in Calgary.



Jeff Myhre
Jeff Myhre

Jeff Myhre is a graduate of the University of Colorado where he double majored in history and international affairs. He earned his PhD at the London School of Economics in international relations, and his dissertation was published by Westview Press under the title The Antarctic Treaty System: Politics, Law and Diplomacy. He is the founder of The Kensington Review, an online journal of commentary launched in 2002 which discusses politics, economics and social developments. He has written on European politics, international finance, and energy and resource issues in numerous publications and for such private entities as Lloyd's of London Press and Moody's Investors Service. He is a member of both the Foreign Policy Association and the World Policy Institute.