Despite the fact that oil produced from Canada's tar sands could doom the planet to catastrophic climate change, and even while hundreds are being arrested at the White House to protest it, the US State Department on Friday said the pipeline would pose little environmental risk.
The State Department's environmental assessment is viewed as a key factor in the pipeline's ultimate approval.
The State Dept. review of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline addresses the risk of oil spills from the pipeline, but largely ignores the issue of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, it sets the stage for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give approval to the pipeline.
A former senior US State Department official who recently left the agency said Sunday that Clinton will likely approve the pipeline, which is widely viewed as the final test for the Obama administration on its stance on the environment and climate change.
David Goldwyn, who left his State Department post as head of international energy affairs earlier this year, said on Platts Energy Week television program that with a positive environmental review and "national interest determination," Clinton would approve the pipeline.
The State Department's environmental impact statement (EIS) concludes the proposed pipeline is preferable to more than a dozen other alternatives, including not building the pipeline.
The State Department document admits that fuel produced from tar sands results in higher greenhouse gas emissions, but it marginalizes the issue by stating that conventional oil is likely to become more emissions-intensive in the future, as remaining sources become more difficult to recover.
The document also justifies building the pipeline by stating that Canada intends to develop the tar sands resource, whether or not the US is the main customer.
This logic implies that it's all right to rob a bank, if you know someone else already intends to. It also does not take into account the major hurdles Alberta would face in producing the oil for overseas customers, and the fact that it would be much more expensive and slower to do so - two factors that could buy time for clean energy technologies to develop that would rebuild our economy and eventually supplant the need for tar sands oil.
If TransCanada builds and opens the pipeline by 2013 as planned, and gas prices slightly drop, the voracious appetite for oil in the US will return and emissions from tar sands will proceed at a staggering and destructive pace.
Although the State Department's EIS favors the pipeline project, Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones says other factors, such as national security, economics and foreign policy have to be considered before the administration makes a final decision.
The public now has 90 days to respond to the State Department's findings, and President Obama is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year.
Environmental advocates have been protesting at the White House for the last week, and the nation's leading environmental groups, unions and the New York Times have all called on Obama to block the project.