White House to Keystone Advocates: Not So Fast

The administration’s response to a key State Department finding on the pipeline left Obama plenty of room to keep the project on ice.

President Obama speaks at a pipeyard for the southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 31, 2014, 6:35 p.m.

Key­stone XL pipeline ad­voc­ates were quick to say that Fri­day’s State De­part­ment re­port gives Pres­id­ent Obama all the evid­ence he needs to ap­prove the pro­ject.

They’ll be dis­ap­poin­ted after hear­ing from the White House. On Fri­day night the White House left it­self plenty of breath­ing room on mak­ing the fi­nal de­cision.

“The Pres­id­ent has clearly stated that the pro­ject will be in the na­tion­al in­terest only if it does not sig­ni­fic­antly ex­acer­bate the prob­lem of car­bon pol­lu­tion. The Fi­nal Sup­ple­ment­al En­vir­on­ment­al Im­pact State­ment in­cludes a range of es­tim­ates of the pro­ject’s cli­mate im­pacts, and that in­form­a­tion will now need to be closely eval­u­ated by Sec­ret­ary [of State John] Kerry and oth­er rel­ev­ant agency heads in the weeks ahead,” said Matt Lehrich, a White House spokes­man.

“A de­cision on wheth­er the pro­ject is in the na­tion­al in­terest will be made only after care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of the SEIS and oth­er per­tin­ent in­form­a­tion, com­ments from the pub­lic, and views of oth­er agency heads,” Lehrich ad­ded.

The key find­ing in the long-awaited State De­part­ment study is that Key­stone would likely have little ef­fect on the rate of ex­pan­sion of car­bon-in­tens­ive oil sands pro­jects.

That ma­jor find­ing is a boost for Tran­sCanada’s pro­posed pipeline and a blow to en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, who say build­ing Key­stone XL would drive up emis­sions by serving as a cata­lyst for ex­pan­ded oil sands pro­duc­tion.

But the re­port — avail­able here — also ex­am­ines al­tern­at­ive oil price and pipeline-con­straint scen­ari­os that dampen oil sands pro­duc­tion, giv­ing pro­ject op­pon­ents something to hang their hat on.

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