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July 22, 2010

Game Changer: EPA Asserts Tar Sands Pipeline Environmental Analysis is Inadequate

This is the weekly blog post from Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. This post was co-written by Lena Moffitt, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign.

This week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blasted the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline - asserting that the EIS is "woefully deficient" because "the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public, and we recommend that additional information and analysis be provided."

The Keystone XL is a massive pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S., and we've long called its EIS inadequate. Now our nation's environmental watchdog is putting its weight and expertise behind that assessment.

EPA is charged with protecting Americans' health and safety, and its concerns about this pipeline underscore and validate what Americans are saying across the country.

EPA is demanding more than 30 additional pieces of information needed based on grave concerns such as "the Draft EIS does not fully identify and address the potential for disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on minority, low-income and Tribal populations."
 
EPA also raises serious concerns about the threats tar sands pose to the health and safety of American communities, which underscores the need to proceed with caution when it comes to making a decision of this magnitude about the country's energy future.  

And given what we've witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico, where rubbers stamps for the oil industry were all too common, we welcome this call for a more thorough and rigorous approach to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Here's just a partial list of what EPA is asking of the State Department, given the woefully deficient consideration of these environmental and human impacts:

- A broader assessment of the need for this pipeline, including a "robust analysis of options for meeting national energy and climate policy objectives";  
- A more thorough investigation into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project, including a consideration of Canadian tar sands development (which EPA asserts is an action clearly connected to building the pipeline and must be considered);  
- A lifecycle assessment of "well-to-wheel" (greenhouse gas) emissions generated from tar sands;  
- A better understanding of mitigation measures that could be taken to decrease the emissions from tar sands developments;  
- An assessment of the air quality impacts of refining tar sands, and a more in-depth look at the environmental justice ramifications of these air quality concerns;
- A much more thorough emergency response plan, including a consideration of the specific impacts to water bodies or a leak or spill of the chemical dilutent needed to transport heavy tar sands oil;  
- A consideration of the safety waiver [the Department of Transportation] is considering granting to TransCanada, with special attention paid to the sulfur content of the fuel and how this would impact the thinner steel which would be used if the waiver were granted;
- A complete assessment of all the project's impacts to wetlands;  
- A consideration of the impacts of Canadian tar sands developments on migratory birds.

That list alone underscores the high risk and hefty cost of pursuing toxic tar sands oil at the expense of America’s clean energy future.

We applaud EPA's scrutiny.

All of the additional analysis requested by EPA must be prepared to allow for a robust consideration of the impacts of this pipeline, and whether or not is it in our nation's interest.

And because of an executive order, these requests from EPA mean that the Keystone XL plan cannot go through until the Department of State can deliver completed analysis addressing all of these points.

We have said all along, an open and honest dialogue about our energy future leads to the conclusion that we should say no to this filthy project. Instead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should say yes to clean energy, yes to clean air, and yes to an oil-free future.

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