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From 'Prudent' to 'Shameful,' Latest Keystone Delay Irks Both Sides of the Aisle

Environmentalists strongly oppose the fourth phase, expressing concern over oil spills and the potential for damage to the Ogallala aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground water tables, which spans eight states, provides drinking water to two million people and supports $20 billion in agriculture.

An environmental impact statement determined that extraction and transportation of the oil sands would carry little impact and likely will not contribute significantly to global climate change. While extracting and burning tar sands produces greenhouse gas at a rate that is 17 percent greater than the burning of traditional oil, the report held that tar sands oil will wind up on the market regardless of whether the pipeline is built or not.

As far as the potential for large, devastating oil spills, the report said, “The proposed Project would include processes, procedures, and systems to prevent, detect, and mitigate potential oil spills.”

TransCanada, the report said, has agreed to “incorporate additional mitigation measures in the design, construction, and operation of the proposed Keystone XL Project, in some instances above what is normally required” in order to reduce the risk of spills.”

On the economic front, the environmental impact statement found that the pipeline would contribute about $3.4 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product.

“The figure includes not only earnings by workers, but all other income earned by businesses and individuals engaged in the production of goods and services demanded by the proposed Project, such as profits, rent, interest and dividends,” the report said. “When compared with the GDP in 2012, the proposed Project’s contribution represents approximately 0.02 percent of annual economic activity across the nation.”

In addition, construction spending would support a combined total of approximately 42,100 jobs throughout the United States for the up to two-year construction period.

“Of these jobs, approximately 16,100 would be direct jobs at firms that are awarded contracts for goods and services, including construction, by Keystone,” the report found. “The other approximately 26,000 jobs would result from indirect and induced spending; this would consist of goods and services purchased by the construction contractors and spending by employees working for either the construction contractor or for any supplier of goods and services required in the construction process.”

The reaction wasn’t completely critical. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the decision was “entirely correct,” given the “unprecedented number of comments from the public on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, and the legal uncertainties due to lawsuits in Nebraska.”

And it carried the support of environmental groups. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the move “prudent.”

“Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL,” Casey-Lefkowitz said. “The newly extended comment period will show what we already know -- the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at Monday’s briefing that the process was being handled by the State Department, “in keeping with past practice by administrations of both parties going back many decades.”

“The president wants the process to be conducted in a way that’s consistent with past practice and consistent with the interests that have to be examined when you’re talking about an international border being crossed by a pipeline. There have been a series of moments along the path here where politics has played a role in delaying the process, as you know -- actions that Congress took, for example. And then there have been other instances where either local or state concerns slow down the process, or, in this case, action by a state court had an impact on the process itself,” Carney said.

“What the president has insisted on all along is that this process be run out of the State Department in accordance with established tradition for matters like these, and that’s been the case here.”