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The Hill (Washington, DC)

Liberal Senators Urge State Department to Toss Out Tar Sands Pipeline Review

Andrew Restuccia

Three liberal senators on Friday called on the State Department to conduct a new environmental analysis of a controversial proposed oil pipeline.

The lawmakers said they have “serious concern” that the current environmental analysis is biased because it was conducted by a contractor with financial ties to TransCanada Corp., the company seeking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We write to express our serious concern with recent reports that the Department of State allowed a contractor with a financia relationship with TransCanada, which seeks to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to conduct the Department’s environmental review mandated under federal law as part of its consideration of TransCanada’s proposed pipeline,” a letter from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says.

“Based on the apparent conflict of interest this presents, and the deficiencies of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) itself, we urge the Department to conduct a new and objective environmental review so the government and the public can fully and fairly evaluate the impacts associated with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.”

The New York Times reported last week that the State Department let TransCanada take part in choosing a contractor to conduct the final environmental impact statement of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

The State Department ultimately choose contractor Cardno Entrix despite the fact that the company had worked closely with TransCanada in the past, according to the Times.

“This is a critically important issue for our environment and the energy future of our country,” the letter says. “At a time when all credible scientific evidence and opinion indicate that we are losing the battle against global warming, it is imperative that we have objective environmental assessments of major carbon-dependent energy projects.”

A coalition of House Democrats sent a similar letter to Clinton this week.

The proposed 1,700-mile, $7 billion Keystone XL project has ignited a firestorm in Washington. Republicans and the oil industry argue that the project will boost the economy and create new jobs.

But environmentalists and other critics of Keystone XL — who have mounted an aggressive opposition campaign against the pipeline — note that Canadian oil sands production results in greater greenhouse gas emissions than traditional oil production, and argue that the pipeline could suffer from spills that pollute waters along the route.

The pipeline could transport up to 830,000 barrels per day.

Critics of the project have released a series of emails in recent weeks that they say shows a cozy relationship between a top TransCanada lobbyist and a State Department official.

The State Department unveiled its final environmental impact statement in August. The study said the proposed pipeline poses little environmental risk if managed properly.

The State Department subsequently held a series of public meetings on the project. Environmental groups protested the pipeline at a recent meeting in Washington.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defended the department’s review of the pipeline, telling the Associated Press this week that there is “no reason to believe” that administration officials are biased.

The administration is slated to make a final decision on the pipeline by the end of the year.

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