Friends of the Earth | Natural Resources Defense Council | Sierra Club
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2011
CONTACT: Kelly Trout, Friends of the Earth: (202) 222-0722
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council: (312) 651-7909
Maggie Kao, Sierra Club: (202) 675-2384
Rush to Judgment:
House Passes Bill to Force Dangerous Pipeline Decision
WASHINGTON, July 26 – In a reckless and politically tainted ploy, the House of Representatives today approved a bill to force the Obama administration to rush a decision on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The vote flies in the face of a rash of pipeline accidents and oil spills as well as mounting evidence that the pipeline would threaten the livelihoods, health and safety of American families from Montana to Texas.
The bill, HR 1938, submitted by Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, passed 279-147. It would require the State Department to decide by Nov. 1 whether to approve the pipeline, which TransCanada Corp. wants to build to carry dirty, toxic and corrosive crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands through six heartland states to Gulf Coast refineries. The bill would cut short the critical legally mandated safety reviews of whether the pipeline is safe and in the national interest and unnecessarily rush a decision the administration has said will come when a thorough review has been completed.
“While the pipeline disaster on the Yellowstone River in Montana is still unfolding, we should not approve a pipeline that isn’t needed, will raise gas prices and threatens drinking water and other resources from the Great Plains to Texas,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is another example of the House’s anti-environmental agenda, putting politics and special interests ahead of science and common sense.”
Sen. Mike Johanns, also of Nebraska, has already predicted Rep. Terry’s bill will go nowhere in the Senate, saying “a thoughtful process” is needed. On July 15, seven senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the State Department to conduct a more rigorous analysis of the pipeline’s safety and alternative pipeline routes to bypass the Ogallala Aquifer, a vital source of drinking and agricultural water for the Great Plains, before moving forward on a decision.
Ken Winston of the Sierra Club’s Nebraska chapter said that in pushing for a rush decision, Rep. Terry is ignoring the mounting evidence that an oil spill from the pipeline could be devastating for his own constituents. Two weeks ago, Dr. John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska hydrologist, released a study (PDF) that found even a small, undetected leak from a rupture of the pipeline in the Nebraska Sandhills could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer with carcinogenic benzene at concentrations exceeding safe levels. Dr. Stansbury’s report also found that the likelihood and amount of a spill into the Platte River was much higher than TransCanada had claimed, and that a spill into the Platte would likely impact the water supplies of Lincoln and Omaha.
“This pipeline would threaten the health and livelihood of thousands of American landowners, farmers and ranchers who depend on the rivers and aquifers crossed by the pipeline,” said Winston. “It is also a threat to the drinking water of the people of Omaha that Rep. Terry is supposed to represent. The existing portion of the Keystone I pipeline, which would tie into the XL, has had a dozen spills in its first year and was recently shut down by federal regulators. The XL would be no different.”
Review of the pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is incomplete, and the State Department has not begun the National Interest Determination required before a decision. Both reviews should be thorough and based on science, not on an arbitrary timeline as defined by the State Department or mandated by Terry’s bill. The NEPA review lacks major pieces of pertinent information regarding greenhouse gas emissions, pipeline safety, alternative routes, and environmental justice.
The House’s action comes almost exactly one year after an Enbridge pipeline carrying tar sands crude oil ruptured in Michigan, spilling as much as 1 million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Scientists and cleanup workers in Michigan say they still don’t know how severe or persistent the impacts of the spill will be because the U.S. has no experience dealing with a large spill of toxic and corrosive tar sands oil.
“The House’s vote is a foolhardy rush to judgment,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy director at Friends of the Earth. “The State Department cannot possibly address the many glaring gaps in its environmental analysis by November, let alone consider lessons from the worrying string of recent pipeline spills. The House is saying we should simply ignore the evidence, not to mention the concerns of communities whose water and land is at risk.”