skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Liz Barratt-Brown’s Blog

EPA gives Keystone XL tar sands pipeline review a failing grade, asks for hearings before review is finalized

Liz Barratt-Brown

Posted June 7, 2011

, , , , ,
Share | | |

Today, the EPA posted their comment letter, chastising the State Department for a review that is “environmentally objectionable” and provides insufficient information to decision makers regarding the safety and impact of deepening our dependence on the dirtiest oil on the planet.  EPA also called for hearings before the final review is issued so that communities especially hard hit by dirty air around refineries in Texas and Louisiana have the opportunity to get their concerns incorporated.  The State Department refused to hold such hearings during the supplemental review in spite the thousands of requests to do so.

 Instead, the State Department is holding fast to a schedule that undercuts the review process and puts Americans at risk so that a foreign pipeline company can make more profits for itself and its shippers, by raising the price of oil.  As 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.”

Key recommendations from the EPA letter include that the State Department should: 

  • Consider alternative routes as required under NEPA.  EPA raises again serious concern with running pipeline through Ogallala because of near surface water table and impacts of a spill. 
  • Disclose data on what the chemical composition is of oil and diluents moving through pipeline. EPA notes serious concern about benzene and impacts on local communities in Michigan that were exposed when the Enbridge pipeline ruptured last summer, sending many residents to the hospital. 
  • Consider harm to communities living near pipeline and to refineries, asking that much better measures be evaluated for reducing exposure and mitigating impact.  EPA points out that communities in the Houston and Port Arthur area are likely to be exposed to disproportionate pollution from the refining of diluted bitumen transported in the pipeline and that these increased refinery emissions and their health impacts should be evaluated.  EPA calls for hearings in these communities before the review is finalized.
  • Change the methodology for evaluating the life-cycle greenhouse gas impacts, which EPA believes are understated by 20 percent and to evaluate scenarios that will result in significant emissions (600 million to 1.15 billion tons of CO2), and evaluate opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas impacts from extraction to refineries.
  • Improve the analysis of damage to wetlands and propose mitigation for damage.  EPA also asks for better information about impacts on migratory birds and other species and of mitigation measures to better protect them.

In closing, EPA restates its major concerns – the potential for groundwater impacts from spills, the impact of more refinery pollution, the greenhouse gases associated with extraction and the pipeline itself, and the lack of mitigation measures, especially in regard to potentially enormous greenhouse gas emissions.   Probably most important to note, though, is EPA’s statement that State should take time to review these impacts because there is no rush – “The consideration of environmental impacts associated with constructing and operating this proposed pipeline is especially important given that current excess pipeline capacity for transporting oil sands crude to the United States will likely persist until after 2020, as noted in the SDEIS.”  

This is a point that we have made over and over, and make again in our comments submitted today.  The U.S. has tar sands pipeline overcapacity for years to come.   The Obama Administration must tell the State Department to jettison its arbitrary deadline of the end of the year so that the requests by EPA and the public can be honored.  That’s what the President promised at a Pennsylvania clean energy event when he touted his Administration’s science based review of the pipeline.

Now is the time to get on with that review in earnest.  And it’s growing increasingly clear that it’s the President, not the State Department, that should be entrusted with this review and decision.

Share | | |


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

Feeds: Liz Barratt-Brown’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In