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July 22, 2011

State Dept Plans Public Hearings on Tar Sands Pipeline

Pipeline Today the U.S. State Department announced it will hold public hearings on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline before making a final decision on whether to approve this massive dirty energy infrastructure project.

The public hearings will be held in the capitols of the six states the pipeline would cross – Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Two additional meetings will be held in the sensitive Sandhills region of the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, through which the pipeline would cross, and the coastal city of Port Arthur, Texas where the pipeline would terminate.

State Department officials also noted that "although we expect to make a decision on whether to grant or deny the permit before the end of the year, we will not make a decision until we have completed this thorough review process."

This is welcome news - the State Dept is right to emphasize that it is more important to get ensure a thorough and complete review than to rush the process because of an arbitrary timeline being pushed by TransCanada. We are also pleased that the State Department has listened to the resounding demands of those communities who will be directly impacted by the pipeline and potential pollution it may cause by granting hearings in the Port Arthur and Sandhills regions.

However, to truly ensure that the input and concerns of those who will be directly impacted by the project are considered, these hearings should actually occur before the final EIS is issued, which is expected in mid-August. (Two earlier EIS's were deemed "insufficient" by the Environmental Protection Agency).  The public’s concern regarding this project should be received and incorporated into the final EIS so that decision makes will have an accurate understanding of the views of all concerned parties.

What's more, a final EIS in August will remain insufficient unless it contains studies on:

  • Alternate Keystone XL routes that avoid the Ogallala aquifer – which provides drinking water to millions of Americans.
  • Pipeline safety related to tar sands transmission – especially on the heels of Exxon's Yellowstone River oil pipeline spill earlier this month.
  • Refinery emissions and the human health impacts of processing more tar sands in communities already burned by enormous sources of pollution.

The spill of more than 42,000 gallons of oil into the formerly pristine Yellowstone River from a broken Exxon pipeline this month is the latest tragic example of the shortcomings of our pipeline safety regulations. Luckily both Houses of Congress have proposed legislation that would require much-needed updates to these regulations, as well as require a study of the safety of tar sands oil pipelines. This legislation should be passed, and the tar sands oil pipeline safety study conducted, before the Keystone XL pipeline is permitted.

In the end, though, our nation should instead be investing in a clean energy economy, not more fossil fuels. We don't need another dirty oil pipeline – just ask the residents along the Yellowstone River. We don't need to further our addiction to oil – just ask the residents along the Gulf Coast. We don't need more polluting oil refineries – just ask the residents in Port Arthur, Texas.

Photo is of a Syncrude tar sands tailing pipeline and pond in Canada, courtesy of DirtyOilSands.org and GarthLenz.com.

-- Kate Colarulli and Lena Moffitt of the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign

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