EPA scrutiny could be lynchpin to Keystone review process

Fri Jan 31, 2014 5:16pm EST
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By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON Jan 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's critical assessment of the proposed northern leg of the Keystone pipeline could have outsized influence on the final decision of whether to approve the project, experts familiar with the process said.

Friday's State Department report contained the EPA's evaluation that crude produced from Canada's oil sands, which the pipeline would carry, are 17 percent more greenhouse gas intensive than average oil used in the United States. The EPA also said oil sands imports would be 2-10 percent more greenhouse-gas intensive than imported oil from Mexico or Venezuela that would probably replace it.

The Departments of Defense, Commerce, Commerce, Energy, Justice, Transportation and Homeland Security are also evaluating the State Department's environmental assessment of the Keystone proposal. Of the eight agencies that have 90 days to weigh in, the EPA's evaluation is expected to be the most influential because of its expertise on the environment.

"The EPA has been very consistently critical. If the report does not make significant changes from the draft version released last March, the EPA would be in a position to be critical in its review," said Danielle Droitsch, Director of the Canada Project with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a green group.

"I don't think Obama would ignore the EPA being critical," she said.

The EPA has been in consultation with the State Department since the draft environmental impact statement was released in March, and some of the comments flagged by the agency have already been discussed, an official close to the process said.

"When we make comments on a draft, typically what happens is we go back and forth with the lead agency to work those comments through," said one official familiar with the process.

Last April, the EPA said the State Department should take a harder look at the climate and related impacts of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The agency said it was concerned about carbon emissions from the oil sands region of Alberta, which oil production is energy intensive.   Continued...