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Keystone Pipeline leaks and Corrective Action Order show tar sands pipelines too risky: State should re-open comment period for Keystone XL supplemental review

Elizabeth Shope

Posted June 8, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Today, NRDC and over 30 groups wrote to Secretary of State Clinton requesting once again that the comment period for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) be extended. Despite numerous requests from a diverse array of individuals and groups to keep the comment period open, the State Department closed the comment period on Monday. However, it is not unprecedented for comment periods to be re-opened, particularly when new information has come to light which would significantly alter a project’s environmental review. In this case re-opening the comment period is critical.

After TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline spilled for the 12th time, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Corrective Action Order to TransCanada, indicating that continued operation of the pipeline would be a “hazard to life, property and the environment.” Pipeline safety regulators at DOT have allowed the Keystone pipeline to resume operating under constrained conditions, which will allow them to investigate both the causes of the recent spills and other threats the pipeline poses to the public and environment.  As part of the order, regulators have asked TransCanada for a significant amount of information to help identify what has been causing an average of a spill per month since the pipeline began operating. Because the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be linked to Keystone, the environmental review process for Keystone XL should be informed by the results of DOT’s investigation.

The letter concludes:

The history of Keystone has demonstrated that the safety issues with diluted bitumen pipelines have not been fully addressed. The State Department needs to give U.S. pipeline regulators at DOT the time they need to determine why the first Keystone pipeline has had so many problems before moving forward with the Keystone XL.  Given these legitimate safety concerns with the pipeline and its proposed route, the public deserves an opportunity to understand and comment based on DOT’s findings.

This letter, signed by local and national groups as well as groups in Canada and Europe is only the most recent cry for more time to review the highly deficient SDEIS, which EPA gave a failing grade in their comments posted yesterday. There has been an outpouring of requests for better analysis and more time not only from environmental groups but also from farmers, refinery communities that would be hit hard by pollution, the faith community, and Members of Congress. And prior to the publication of the SDEIS, a hundred landowners and ranchers and 25 Mayors made requests for analysis in the Supplemental that were not met by the State Department.

  • National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton last week, saying: “An extension of the comment period is necessary to provide greater opportunity for input from farmers and ranchers, many of whom are currently busy with spring planting. Opportunity should also be provided for public hearings along the proposed route to allow for input from impacted communities.”
  • Nearly 50 faith-based groups, led by the Columban Fathers, wrote to Secretary Clinton last week: “As a people of faith, we are in awe of Earth’s goodness and its ability to provide life for all of God’s creation. As such we need to ensure that proper steps are taken to secure this ability for future generations to come. As a people, society, and government we need to respect the intrinsic value of creation, and thus, the environment as well. We urge you not to permit TransCanada the opportunity to build the Keystone XL Pipeline.”
  • Over 40 Texan refinery community leaders asked Secretary Clinton “to support us by ensuring that the State Department provide a scientific study of how Keystone XL’s tar sands imports will impact our communities and that we be granted local public hearings during the SDEIS’s official comment period.” 
  • Over 3 dozen Members of Congress, led by Representative Cohen said that “While we appreciate the Department of State’s decision to issue a supplemental review, we are concerned that once again the Department of State has failed to appropriately address issues that were ignored or inadequately analyzed in the first environmental review.” The letter also calls for a 120 day comment period and requests a meeting the State Department officials.
  • Nebraska’s Senators Nelson and Johanns as well as Nebraska State Senators have asked the State Department not to rush the process, and to move the proposed Keystone XL route out of the Nebraska Sandhills and Ogallala aquifer.

The State Department is failing to listen to the reasonable, sensible requests of hundreds of thousands of American people, numerous groups and U.S. politicians from both sides of the aisle – siding with the oil companies and rushing the permitting process of Keystone XL without doing analysis that is critical to keeping Americans safe. Congressman Waxman said recently at a hearing on a bill that would expedite the decision-making on Keystone XL, “Some will say we have to make trade-offs and sacrifice our air quality for lower gas prices.  But with this project, we would be sacrificing our air quality for higher gas prices.” It is time for Secretary Clinton and President Obama to start listening and protect their country and their people from a bullying pipeline company with a terrible safety record. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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