U.S. State Dept. lawyer Benes is latest Keystone XL player to go

Wed Aug 27, 2014 4:08pm EDT
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By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON Aug 27 (Reuters) - A U.S. State Department lawyer who played a key role in the Keystone XL pipeline review is moving on, sources said on Wednesday, the latest departure of a senior official involved with the long-delayed project.

Keith Benes helped produce the government's two environmental impact reviews on Keystone, which concluded that the 1,200-mile (1,900-km) pipeline might encourage Canadian oil sands development, but would not meaningfully worsen global climate change.

However, Keystone opponents see the personnel shifts as opportunities to influence one of the most politically charged issues of President Barack Obama's second term.

"This could give us a chance for some fresh conversations," said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group opposed to the pipeline.

The oil industry has been cheered by the official findings that Keystone will not seriously worsen global warming and executives have urged quick approval.

Environmentalists, though, say the plan to move 830,000 barrels per day of crude from Canada to U.S. refineries must be rejected as part of a broader campaign to fight climate change.

Benes, a former corporate lawyer, had worked on the Keystone project since 2007 - the year TransCanada Corp sought U.S. permission to build the cross-border link.

Because the pipeline would extend over the U.S.-Canada border, the State Department must either bless or reject the proposal based on its reading of the national interest.   Continued...