Political Flavors

Cause for Optimism on Keystone

Posted in Editorials on April 23rd, 2013

Although I am still unsure about the final outcome of the Keystone XL pipeline, there have been some developments in the past 24 hours that have made me feel very optimistic.

First, the EPA has released at statement that upon their review of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, they have rated the impact of the action as

EO (Environmental Objections) The review has identified significant environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to adequately protect the environment. Corrective measures may require substantial changes to the preferred alternative or consideration of some other project alternative (including the no action alternative or a new alternative).


(Insufficient Information) The draft EIS does not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment, or the reviewer has identified new reasonably available alternatives that are within the spectrum of alternatives analyzed in the draft EIS, which could reduce the environmental impacts of the proposal. The identified additional information, data, analyses, or discussion should be included in the final EIS.

Additionally, the EPA raises three concerns. First, that Keystone has not adequately addressed the greenhouse gas emissions of the project specifically because their argument that the tar sands will be developed anyway is a weak one, and they have not done enough to explain how this is the case, especially relating to the price of oil, and the railway infrastructure to ship it.

I’m really relieved that this isn’t flying, because it’s something that has been bothering me since I first read the executive summary of the dEIS, and something I included in my public comments. It is a bad argument caused by shoddy work at best, intentional deception at worst.

The EPA statement goes on to question the adequacy of the pipeline safety plan, and state that Keystone has not done enough to explain why alternate pipeline routes would not be a better alternative.

Next, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org and other environmental organizations have released their public comments on Keystone, which I haven’t had a chance to review in their entirety yet, but they raise similar concerns – that the consideration of the no action alternative was incomplete, that other alternatives haven’t been adequately considered, that the dEIS hasn’t addressed greenhouse gas emissions, and that tar sands oil is more difficult to clean up than other oil. They go farther than the EPA and criticize the dEIS for not sufficiently addressing Environmental Justice and tribal concerns, when the EPA applauded Keystone for good work in that area. Additionally, the Sierra Club et al raise procedural concerns; including that documents relevant to the dEIS were not released to the public.

I got a warm, fuzzy feeling reading about all of this today. The EPA and environmental NGOs are working as they are supposed to, and the idealists in the 1970’s who set up these procedures hoped they would act – in the best interests of the public. This is the first indication in years, if not ever at all, that the Obama administration may be opposed to Keystone XL. It’s highly unlikely that Cynthia Giles, the “top cop” of the EPA would release such a harsh rebuke without the administration on board. And this is a very good sign.

This past Saturday I was talking about Keystone XL with someone in my congregation and I was explaining how pessimistic I was about it and why. She asked me if there was any hope at all. I told her that if I was right, and the dEIS really shouldn’t have assumed the tar sands will be developed anyway, I trust that the Sierra Club will make it known in their public comments if not in a lawsuit. And some think that it is heading that way. It’s a really good feeling when that glimmer of hope becomes a giant ray of sunshine.

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