Keystone Pipeline Saga Still Has Several More Chapters

View of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 25, 2009. Greenpeace is calling for an end to oil sands mining in the region due to their greenhouse gas emissions and have recently staged sit-ins which briefly halted production at several mines. At an estimated 175 billion barrels, Alberta's oil sands are the second largest oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia, but they were neglected for years, except by local companies, because of high extraction costs. Since 2000, skyrocketing crude oil prices and improved extraction methods have made exploitation more economical, and have lured several multinational oil companies to mine the sands.  
National Journal
Amy Harder
Add to Briefcase
Amy Harder
Nov. 25, 2013, 12:56 p.m.

Settle back into your seat and get comfortable, because the next rounds in the Keystone XL pipeline fight are going to require digging into documents spanning thousands of pages, or at least waiting until someone else does it for you.

The next two steps in the protracted regulatory review process will be the State Department’s release of two documents: the final environmental impact statement and a related inspector general’s report. The IG for State has been investigating whether any conflict of interest exists between the company that did the administration’s environmental review and TransCanada, the company seeking to build the cross-border pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

Once those two documents are released — expected sometime in the next three months — other federal agencies will conduct nearly four more months of review before the administration makes a final decision on the permit. That means the Keystone XL saga isn’t poised to end until the middle part of 2014.

In September 2008, TransCanada first submitted its application to the State Department to build the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would send more than 700,000 barrels of heavy oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. You might recall that TransCanada is actually in the middle of the second regulatory review process, since President Obama rejected the company’s first application in the face of the GOP-imposed deadline in early 2012.

The southern leg of the pipeline spanning 500 miles is almost complete, because it doesn’t require a presidential permit. The part still pending for approval is runs about 875 miles from the U.S. border with Canada to Nebraska.

The State Department is overdue in releasing its final environmental review, which it had initially projected would be released in early fall. While administrations have a habit of releasing controversial news around holidays and Fridays, a State Department official confirmed Monday its final environmental review is not coming this week. We should all be thankful for that.

When it does come, it will mean a lot in terms of what direction the administration is leaning for its final decision. The document will be massive and the small parts that matter most will be buried. Specifically, you should look for how the review evaluates the pipeline’s projected impact (or lack thereof) on global warming based on the marker the president put down in his speech in June.

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Obama said on a steamy summer day at Georgetown University. “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will absolutely be critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

His speech shifted the pipeline debate from one about economics and environmental risks squarely into global-warming territory.

“It’s all about the impact on climate,” said Bill Burton, a former communications aide to Obama who is now advising the League of Conservation Voters, which is opposing the pipeline. “And if we see they make a judgment call about whether or not oil will still come out of the ground with or without the pipeline.”

To translate Obama’s line in the climate sand into a technical review document, you need to get wonky.

“The thing that matters most is the word ‘additionality,’ ” said Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based nonpartisan analysis firm. “Additionality” isn’t actually a word but a jargon term used among climate experts to explain how many more carbon emissions a project adds relative to the status quo.

The draft environmental review the State Department released in March found that Keystone would indirectly add up to 830,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year — which is a tiny amount compared to the 32 billion metric tons of global carbon emissions from the entire energy sector overall — by helping enable Canada’s oil-sands development. Because of this relative small figure compared to the overall amount of carbon, the review concluded that Keystone “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast region.” This particular line made environmentalists worry the draft review was a sign the administration was going to green-light the project.

If the 830,000 figure is much higher, it could indicate the administration is leaning less toward a final answer of yes than it was before. If it’s lower or about the same, it’s a sign the administration is headed toward yes, still.

The State’s Department’s initial environmental review, released all the way back in summer 2011, came to a similar conclusion: ” “¦ the overall contribution to cumulative [greenhouse-gas] impacts from proposed Project construction and operation would not constitute a substantive contribution to the U.S. or global emissions.”

Other than the final environmental review, you need to watch for the inspector general’s report, which is investigating Environmental Resource Management’s ties to TransCanada in response to pressure from environmental groups. The IG has said it will release its report early next year, likely in February, which means any final decision on the pipeline probably won’t come until after that. If the report does find concrete evidence of a conflict-of-interest, then this regulatory process could start all over for a third time.

Book ultimately predicts Obama will approve the pipeline even it takes more time.

“If you’re going to deny the pipeline, it could have been done already,” Book said. “It takes longer to say yes than no. You need to dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s” to say yes and protect yourself from legal challenges.”

What We're Following See More »
“KNOWINGLY AND INTENTIONALLY”
Inspector General Report Found McCabe Lied To Investigators
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Justice Department inspector general referred its finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a media disclosure to the top federal prosecutor in D.C. to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime." The referral occurred "after the inspector general concluded McCabe had lied to investigators or his own boss, then-FBI Director James B. Comey, on four occasions, three of them under oath." The referral does "not necessarily mean McCabe will be charge with a crime ... although the report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies 'was done knowingly and intentionally.'"

Source:
GOP APPOINTEES RULE AGAINST TRUMP
Court Rules Against Policy Punishing Sanctuary Cities
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

A federal appeals court in Chicago "upheld a nationwide injunction against making federal grant funding contingent on cooperation with immigration enforcement." The three Republican appointees ruled that the Trump administration "exceeded its legal authority in trying to implement the new conditions without approval from Congress ... One judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel, Reagan appointee Daniel Manion, said he would narrow the injunction solely to protect Chicago. However, the two other judges assigned to the case said the nationwide injunction appeared to be justified."

Source:
BUT PLEDGES TO HAVE A VOTE
Grassley Delays Markup of Protect-Mueller Bill
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley "decided Thursday to delay markup" on a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller until next week. But he remains steadfast in his support for a committee vote, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "pledge to kill it" if it gets to the floor.

Source:
ARMISTICE MAY BECOME PEACE AGREEMENT
North Korea Looking for Denuclearization of Peninsula
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

North Korea has expressed its commitment to 'complete denuclearisation' of the Korean peninsula and is not seeking conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday. ... South Korea announced on Wednesday that it is considering how to change a decades-old armistice with North Korea into a peace agreement as it prepares for the North-South summit this month." The leaders of the respective countries are also expected to connect a phone line so they can communicate directly.

Source:
NO IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT DUTIES
Deal Reached to Send California National Guard to Border
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

"California reached an agreement with the federal government that the state’s National Guard troops will deploy to the border to focus on fighting transnational gangs as well as drug and gun smugglers, Gov. Jerry Brown said. ... Brown said Wednesday he secured federal funding for terms similar to those outlined in last week’s proposed contract: The Guard cannot handle custody duties for anyone accused of immigration violations, build border barriers or have anything to do with immigration enforcement."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login