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House bill would give TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline special exemption from US environmental law

Anthony Swift

Posted May 21, 2013

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Proponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in the House are pushing forward a measure that would exempt the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada from legal requirements placed on domestic pipeline operators. H.R. 3, or the Northern Route Approval Act, proposed by Representative Terry, is far more extreme than any previous pro-Keystone XL measure considered in the Congress to date. Terry’s bill would thwart a decades old bipartisan process for considering international pipeline applications - a process which the American public is heavily invested after submitting over a million comments detailing the tar sands project's significant environmental impacts. Moreover, in a series of unprecedented provisions, Terry’s bill would exempt the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), permitting requirements for federal rights of way, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. H.R. 3 isn’t a bill to approve Keystone XL. It’s a bill for giving a foreign company special treatment by exempting it from the nation’s most cherished laws protecting public health, welfare and the environment.

Of course, the House vote on Terry’s bill is little more than political theater – it has very little chance of becoming law. That said, this political theater sets a dangerous precedent. Even if it doesn’t become law, it creates a precedent for exempting a dangerous and controversial project, sponsored by a foreign company, from U.S. laws that domestic companies are required to abide by.

The Keystone XL pipeline should be considered by the same process that has evaluated every transborder pipeline proposal. This process is moving forward as it should – after all, TransCanada only applied for a permit for its northern pipeline a year ago.   It is critical that the pipeline application process run it proper course with a thorough environmental review that will ensure safeguards for the health and safety of the American public from tar sands oil spills, refinery pollution, and climate change driven by tar sands expansion.

Moreover, it is in the public’s interest that TransCanada’s proposal be considered through a national interest determination process. Such a process would consider whether it’s in the public’s interest to bear the risks of tar sands spills, refinery pollutions and greater climate emissions in order for Canadian tar sands producers to refine their product at the Gulf and export it internationally. Because according to the State Department, most of the refined product from Keystone XL – including gasoline and diesel - will be exported internationally.

The need to take concrete steps to address climate change has never been greater – and the approval of Keystone XL would take the nation in the wrong direction by replacing conventional crude with even more carbon intensive tar sands as well as by driving rapid expansion of the tar sands production. Our lawmakers need to take serious steps to achieve energy independence and get our country back to work. Investments and jobs in clean energy is something our country can get behind.

Read more about the risks of Keystone XL: 

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Herb FitzellMay 22 2013 12:43 AM

No need to worry about the law if you can pay your man enough to rewrite it. i am no lawyer; but, given the falsity of the Draft SEIS calculations, I find it difficult to believe that the law has not already been broken. For example, the railcar lease cost per barrel figure of $1.00 found in section of the Description of Reasonable Alternatives is demonstrable fantasy. Isn't this illegal? Here is the appalling mathematical proof.

The A&K Railroad is delivering Southern Pacific's dilbit to the Port of Nachez. Their recent newsletter claims they are transporting "approximately 500" barrels per railcar. This is consistent with my calculation of 497 barrels per car. The highest specific gravity of dilbit is 1.014336918. Using the large 25,500 gallon tank cars with a load limit of 188,000 would give you about the number reported by A&K. A lighter dilbit blend would give you 574 barrels per railcar. This is calculated using a dilbit API of 20 and the formula 1/(141.5/API Gravity + 131.5 x 0.159). This formula shows 6.7337825215014 barrels transported per metric ton. 188,000 lbs = 85.275 metric tons. 6.7337825215014 x 85.275 = 574 barrels. 497 to 574 barrels per rail car is about the range of dilbit which can be transported in a 25,500 gallon car with a 188,000 load limit.

The lease cost per barrel is calculated by dividing the lease cost by barrels delivered. Supply is short and shippers are subleasing these cars for $2,000 a month. Using my estimate of 497 barrels per railcar ( confirmed by A&K ), these cars would need to make 4 completed round trips per month for the 1900 mile trip from Lloydminster to Stroud. Assuming the 24 hours for loading and unloading claimed by Draft SEIS would leave 67.3 hours for the railcars to make the loaded trip, and another 67.3 hours for the return trip. Anyone familiar with rail transit time would know that the 67.3 figure would mean that CPRS and BNSF would need to teleport railcars from approximately the Canadian boarder to Oklahoma --- and then back again! Changing the number of barrels per car to 574 also results in equally false estimates, and there is no range of possible manipulations that could possibly result in a lease cost per barrel of $1.00 -- except via teleportation. If the false figure of $1.00 estimated by Draft SEIS is not illegal, it is certainly a crime. Rail transit is slow, and the cars would not have a mean average of more than 1.08 trips per month resulting is a lease cost of $3.72 rather than $1.00. Draft SEIS is brutally false.

Many lawmakers have always been for sale, and I predict KXL will be purchased. First Nations peoples in Canada are dying from cancer and destruction of their lands. Their treaty rights are violated. Genocide is a crime with only one crime being worse -- Geocide -- the destruction of the Earth itself along with all its bio-systems, peoples, and creatures. The wachisu is again crazed by the new and dirty black gold. I am not sure how much KXL will cost, but -- at least for some -- an isolated mansion on the soon to die coast of B.C. is enough.

Clearie LewisMay 22 2013 01:52 PM

Anthony please be aware that HR3 contains a section on navigable waters and that in Canada the pipeline industry destroyed our navigable waters act. I presume this was done to avoid heavy fines for future spills. I've given this information to the environment defense fund and american rivers on facebook and hope it gets to the right people. Action through courts is urgently needed to stop this.

Rob DekkerMay 23 2013 04:50 AM

This effort by House Republicans on HR3 reminds me of how the Alberta tar sand industry, fossil fuel lobbyists operating as 501(c)(4) tax exempt front groups and the Canadian government PR machine killed off the effort to obtain a national low carbon fuel standard in our nation :

by for example intimidating Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, the plaid-shirted Republican who had once observed that a national low carbon fuel standard "makes a lot of sense."

The goal of it all? Defeat Obama’s effort to reduce carbon consumption and keep America hooked on Canada’s $441 billion tar sands industry, no matter what the cost to our planet’s future.

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