WASHINGTON - The powerful U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has once again rebuked the State Department over its positive environmental assessment of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
In a lengthy, highly technical letter sent Monday to the top State Department officials overseeing the pipeline permit process, the EPA raises serious concerns about the project's carbon footprint and criticizes the department's draft analysis.
It urges the State Department to rethink its finding that the controversial pipeline would not significantly spur production of Alberta's carbon-intensive oilsands or boost greenhouse gas emissions.
The letter, signed by EPA official Cynthia Giles, said the State assessment included "insufficient information" on environmental issues and added that officials failed to adequately consider alternative routes for the pipeline.
It's the second time the EPA has publicly denounced the State Department's environmental review of the pipeline.
In July 2010, as TransCanada awaited a decision from the White House on its first permit application, the EPA sent a letter to the State Department calling its draft environmental assessment of the project “inadequate.”
Then, as now, it chastised analysts for failing to address the greenhouse gas emissions associated with Keystone XL. The letter also urged the State Department to further examine pipeline safety and spill-response planning, as well as the impact on Canadian aboriginal communities.
The EPA is one of several federal agencies that’s been advising the Obama administration on the $7.6-billion pipeline, a project that would carry millions of barrels of bitumen a week from Alberta’s oilsands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline early last year, but invited TransCanada to file a new application with an altered route that would skirt Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region.
TransCanada did so, earning the thumb's up from the state of Nebraska and the draft assessment from the State Department that suggested it posed minimal environmental risks. The State Department is analysing the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
In Round 2 between the EPA and the State Department, Giles says State officials have mistakenly concluded that oilsands bitumen would find buyers with or without the pipeline, most likely via rail lines. The State review used an outdated "energy-economic modeling effort" to reach that finding, she wrote.
“Because the market analysis is so central to this key conclusion, we think it is important that it be as complete and accurate as possible,” she added.
The EPA response was one of hundreds submitted to the State Department following the release of its draft ecological assessment of Keystone in March. The public comment period ended on Monday.
The State Department will now review all the public comments, including the input from the EPA, before finalizing its draft report. Ninety days later, State officials will then determine whether Keystone XL is in the national interest of the United States.
After that, it will be up to Obama to either block or bless the pipeline. A final decision is expected this summer.
The State Department released a brief statement on Monday night saying it had always anticipated that it "would conduct additional analysis and incorporate public comments" in the final version of its environmental report on the pipeline.
Environmental groups urged Obama administration officials to heed the EPA.
"We hope that the State Department will listen closely to the EPA and try again to measure the true impact of this proposed pipeline, which almost every evaluator who doesn’t work for the Canadian government or an oil company has found to be not in the national interest," May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement.