In a letter to the State Department released Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Keystone XL pipeline would "significantly increase" greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands—a declaration environmentalists hope will serve as a final nail in the project's coffin.
"The EPA's assessment is spot-on," said Danielle Droitsch, Canada project director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There should be no more doubt that President Obama must reject the proposed pipeline once and for all. If built, it would transport Canadian tar sands oil—the dirtiest fuel on the planet—through America’s heartland, only to be refined and then shipped abroad. The pipeline would threaten our waters, our lands and turbo-charge climate pollution. It’s absolutely not in our national interest."
"Its knife-sharp comments make clear that despite the State Department’s relentless spin, Keystone is a climate disaster by any realistic assessment."
—Bill McKibben, 350.org
In the letter (pdf), EPA said the recent drop in oil prices means that building Keystone XL would promote further expansion of Canadian tar sands, unleashing more greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating climate change.
"[A]t sustained oil prices within this range, construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production, and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, over what would otherwise occur," reads the letter signed by EPA official Cynthia Giles.
"In a city where bureaucrats rarely say things right out loud, the EPA has come pretty close," said 350.org's Bill McKibben. "Its knife-sharp comments make clear that despite the State Department’s relentless spin, Keystone is a climate disaster by any realistic assessment. The president's got every nail he needs to finally close the coffin on this boondoggle."
The State Department concluded in an January 2014 environmental review that Keystone XL would not significantly raise global carbon emissions because the tar sands oil would be produced and transported with or without the project.
But "[g]iven the recent variability in oil prices, it is important to revisit these conclusions," the EPA's letter read.
Bold Nebraska, which has been organizing against the pipeline for years, noted that the EPA also criticized the State Department for not thoroughly examining alternate pipeline routes that would avoid the fragile Sandhills and Ogallala aquifer.
"It is reassuring the EPA stands with farmers and ranchers who know the Sandhills are still crossed by this risky pipeline and that alternative routes were not given enough serious consideration," said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska. "America is diversifying our energy sources with renewables and Keystone XL continues to be a step backwards and simply does not make sense given low oil prices and the high carbon content of tar sands."
The State Department asked eight federal agencies—the EPA, the Pentagon, and the Departments of Energy, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, and Homeland Security—to weigh in on the pipeline by February 2, before Secretary of State John Kerry and the president determine its fate. The EPA is the only agency so far to release its comments publicly.
But the Houston Chronicle reports:
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Monday that the Interior Department has flagged concerns about tribal consultations and issues raised by Bureau of Reclamation with regard to protecting rural water infrastructure in the pipeline’s path.
"The Department of the Interior encouraged the State Department to give appropriate consideration to comments previously submitted during the Keystone XL permit review process as well as concerns expressed by some tribes in Indian Country about the project," said Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw.
Both houses of Congress have passed bills authorizing the construction of Keystone XL, and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation if it gets to his desk.
In a statement, Friends of the Earth's climate and energy associate Luisa Abbott Galvão said the EPA's comments further justify that veto.
"The EPA today confirmed what we’ve been saying all along: that the Keystone XL pipeline fails President Obama’s climate test," she said. "EPA rejects the State Department’s conclusion that the tar sands would inevitably be developed. These comments further support the rejection of this senseless project by President Obama."