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State Department: Keystone XL Would Not Worsen Warming


The Keystone XL oil pipeline may be closer to being built. The U.S. State Department's released an environmental impact statement that says the project would not make climate change any worse, and it's now up to President Obama to decide the fate of the pipeline. NPR's Jeff Brady reports that environmental groups and many Democrats want the president to reject the review's findings.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, almost 1200 miles south to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Because it would cross an international border, the State Department is reviewing the environmental effects. Last June, at Georgetown University, President Obama set a relative clear test for the pipeline.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest and our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

BRADY: Oil from tar sands requires a lot of energy just to make it usable. It has to be mined from the ground and often heated up, so producing it creates more pollution than traditional drilling. The State Department estimates it releases 17 percent more greenhouse gases than the typical crude oil. Despite that, the State Department report finds that even if the Keystone XL is not built, it's likely that producers would find another way to sell their oil.

That's now the State Department concludes the pipeline will not contribute significantly to carbon pollution. The company behind the project is Calgary--based TransCanada. CEO Russ Girling welcomed the State Department report in a conference call yesterday.

RUSS GIRLING: We are very pleased with the release and being able to move to this next stage of the process. It's been long in getting here.

BRADY: TransCanada first applied for a permit for the pipeline more than five years ago. The company assumed it would be built by now, but it didn't anticipate significant opposition from environmental groups. Faced with that, Girling often talks about the economic benefits the more than $5 billion pipeline would mean to the U.S.

GIRLING: We are ready, willing and wanting to put 9,000 American men and women to work as quickly as we can.

BRADY: Most of those jobs are for the construction phase only. Opponents point out the number of workers will be much lower than that once the construction is over.

SUSAN CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: This isn't a plan to help the country. It's about big profits for big oil.

BRADY: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Groups like hers will weigh in on the State Department findings during a 30-day public comment period that begins next week. In recent years, opponents have regularly protested across the country and Bill McKibben with the group 350.org says more demonstrations are coming.

BILL MCKIBBEN: There'll be vigils next week. There are more than 75,000 people pledged to civil disobedience.

BRADY: There is no formal deadline for the president to make a decision on the Keystone XL, but meanwhile, a section of it already has been built, a southern leg of the pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma south to the Gulf Coast. This part of the project doesn't cross the U.S.-Canada border and doesn't require the president's approval.

TransCanada says it started moving oil through that section of the pipeline a few weeks back. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.