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Keystone XL pipeline route
Nudged along by freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, 11 senators have written a letter to President Obama requesting a May 31 deadline on his decision regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. If approved, that pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels a day of bitumen, an especially polluting form of petroleum, to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The southern leg of the pipeline is already operating. Under review is the 1,167-mile northern segment—from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska—which requires a presidential permit because it crosses an international boundary. Among other things, the letter states:
After taking all of this additional information into account, the Final SEIS still reached virtually the same conclusion as previous reviews, that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil-prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.”  Also, over half of the extraction today employs more traditional in situ drilling technologies, and will be used to recover a large majority of the resource. Given that there has been little change from previous conclusions reached, we believe that an ultimate decision should not be delayed any longer than is reasonably necessary. [...]

The time to act is now Mr. President, please use your executive authority to expedite this process to a swift conclusion and a final decision so that we can all move forward on other energy infrastructure needs in this country. We ask that you bring this entire process to an end no later than May 31, 2014, and that your final decision be the right one, finding that the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.

In addition to Heitkamp, the senators are Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester and John Walsh of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. Begich, Hagan, Landrieu, Pryor and Walsh are all up for election in November in states Obama lost in 2012.

Other Senate Democrats who have indicated they favor building the pipeline, notably Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who is also up for election this year, are conspicuous by their absence. "Sen. Udall still believes Congress should not be injecting politics into this process,” said Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the senator.

The pipeline is near the end of its final review. In addition to evaluating public comments that were submitted in the 30 days ending March 7, several federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency are looking over the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to assess whether building the pipeline is in the national interest, a requirement for approval by the administration. Although approving or rejecting the pipeline is, by executive order, the prerogative of the Secretary of State, Obama has made clear that the decision will be his.

The 90-day review should be completed the last day of this month. The senators want Secretary of State John Kerry to make his recommendation within 15 days of that and for the president to make his at the end of May.

There is a possible hang-up, however. A Nebraska judge has ruled that the state's approval of a new route for the pipeline was unconstitutionally transferred to authorities that shouldn't be the deciders. Unless appeals reverse that ruling, the Nebraska Public Service Commission will decide whether the route is okay. That process could take seven months or longer. Approving the pipeline as being in the national interest before a final route is chosen would seem to be a violation of the spirit of honest review.

The full text of the letter is below the fold.

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to request that you use your executive authority to implement an explicit timeline for Secretary of State John Kerry to make a national interest determination on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application. At the expiration of the current 90-day comment and consultation period for certain federal agencies, there should be a date certain no later than 15 days after that date for Secretary Kerry to provide you with his national interest determination recommendation. Finally, we ask that you commit to making your final decision on the permit application no later than May 31, 2014.

We respect the need for a final 30-day public comment period, a period that closed on Friday, March 7, 2014. It is important that at every step of this process that the public and other stakeholders are able to provide their feedback in response to the Environmental Impact Statements released through the State Department as part of the permit application process.  We also respect the need for relevant federal agencies and officials to weigh-in with Secretary Kerry, pursuant to Executive Order 13337, so that they may express their views and assistance in order for Secretary Kerry to make a fully informed national interest determination.

However, this is a process that has now gone on well past five years, has involved two applications, five federal reviews, multiple open comment periods, and numerous opportunities for consultation and comment  at either public forums or at staff-level meetings. The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), released by the State Department on January 31, 2014, was well over 2,000 pages and included an expanded analysis of potential oil releases; an expanded climate change analysis; an updated oil market analysis incorporating new economic modeling; an expanded analysis of rail transport; and additional analysis regarding alternative modes of transportation beyond rail.

After taking all of this additional information into account, the Final SEIS still reached virtually the same conclusion as previous reviews, that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil-prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.”  Also, over half of the extraction today employs more traditional in situ drilling technologies, and will be used to recover a large majority of the resource. Given that there has been little change from previous conclusions reached, we believe that an ultimate decision should not be delayed any longer than is reasonably necessary.

This process has been exhaustive in its time, breadth, and scope. It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify. This is an international project that will provide our great friend and ally Canada, a direct route to our refineries. These refineries were specifically built to process and refine heavy crude, and Canadian crude will help replace heavy crude imports from unstable and unfriendly countries like Venezuela. Canada has done its part and has been a willing and patient partner throughout this process. This project will enhance our relationship with Canada and increase our drive towards North American energy security and independence, and there is no consultation required to arrive at that conclusion.

Given all these facts, we believe that after the 90-day period in which certain executive agencies and officials can provide comment and consultation to Secretary of State Kerry has expired, there should be a date certain no later than 15 days after that date for Secretary Kerry to provide you with his national interest determination recommendation.

We cannot miss another construction season, given the long cold winter this year along the Keystone XL route and the time required for ground thaw, we could be looking at a very short season. We need a definitive timeline laid out, a timeline that reduces the comment period for federal agencies, officials and other entities. A timeline that requires Secretary Kerry to present you with his national interest determination shortly after the comment and consultation period ends. This decision must not drag on into the summer.

The time to act is now Mr. President, please use your executive authority to expedite this process to a swift conclusion and a final decision so that we can all move forward on other energy infrastructure needs in this country. We ask that you bring this entire process to an end no later than May 31, 2014, and that your final decision be the right one, finding that the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Apr 10, 2014 at 09:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by Gulf Watchers Group, Climate Change SOS, and Daily Kos.

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