Influential Group of Senators asks Secretary Clinton to Take it Slow on Approval of Massive New Tar Sands Pipeline

A letter from Senator Leahy (D-VT) and ten other Senators gets to the heart of the issues around approval of a massive new tar sands pipeline, the TransCanada Keystone XL. Does the U.S. really need this tar sands pipeline? Are the trade-offs – from pollution of our air and water to a chilling effect on our clean energy policies – too great? Are the energy security arguments undercut by the fact that this pipeline will open up an international market for tar sands oil? These questions are being asked at a critical time. The State Department must decide in the next month or so how close it will look at these issues and whether it will share that analysis for public comment through a revised environmental impact statement (EIS). In April, it released what was broadly considered an inadequate EIS – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave it its lowest possible ranking – and EPA, the Department of Energy, and Department of Interior have all requested that the State Department conduct significant additional analysis. But at the heart of the Senators’ inquiries is perhaps the most important question of all: Can the Secretary conduct a process that could as readily reject as approve this massive new investment in tar sands oil? The letter says: As you recently stated, tar sands oil is “dirty oil.” Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades. We believe the Department of State (DOS) should not pre-judge the outcome of what should be a thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impact on our climate and clean energy goals. The Secretary seemed to undercut this process and tip her hand prematurely at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club earlier this month. In answering an unexpected question, she called tar sands oil “dirty oil” but then continued – to NRDC’s great disappointment – to say that until the U.S. has sources of clean, renewable energy, it is difficult to say no. What the Secretary didn’t address, is the blunt political reality that we will likely never get to significant production of clean energy if we allow the tar sands lobby – already formidable – to become even more entrenched by deepening our dependence. Already this lobby was successful in stripping the House climate bill of its low carbon fuel standard; the Senate climate bills didn’t even contain a similar provision. We fool ourselves if we think we can have both clean energy and tar sands oil. In the absence of climate change and energy reform, extraction of tar sands oil in Alberta’s forested wilderness is booming, powerfully symbolized by ExxonMobil’s aggressive plans to move over-sized equipment from South Korea up small, rural roads in Idaho and Montana for up to twenty years. Tar Sands Trucks Blog-Size.jpg In Canada, there is a weak, production-driven regulatory regime that has allowed industry to expand virtually unfettered by environmental controls. And expansion in Canada is connected – via the pipelines – to refineries in half a dozen states that are being re-tooled and enlarged to taketar sands oil. The proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline would be the third dedicated tar sands pipeline approved by the State Department since 2008 and it would carry the heavy, tarry oil under high pressure and temperature from Alberta to Texas, slicing through a large swath of agricultural land and over the top of one of our nation’s most important aquifers. Nebraska’s delegation has come out swinging, asking how this oil could be more important than the aquifer that supports its $17 billion dollar agricultural sector and its Sandhills’ wetlands. Because there is already huge overcapacity in the tar sands pipeline system, Keystone XL would run under-capacity for years, and one can only wonder if TransCanada and some oil companies are using Keystone XL to assure investors that tar sands oil can and will be shipped into global markets, thus keeping investments flowing to expand production, even as the U.S. starts to reduce its use of oil. To date, there has been no ready way – via Canada or the U.S. – to transport tar sands to any major port for large-scale export to Europe, Asia, or other areas. Outside of Canada, nearly all the tar sands oil is used in the Midwest and Rocky region. This pipeline would change that. These are important questions to ask in considering what is in the best interest for the U.S. That is a very different question to ask than what is in the best interest of the oil industry. Thanks to these Senators, what’s in the best interest of the U.S. is now more likely to be fully debated. ((28 OCT 2010))













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