Senator John Thune, (Republican-South Dakota) said one of the first acts of the new Senate will be to force President Barack Obama’s hand on the Keystone XL pipeline.
The project has been in the works since 2008 and its current version involves a 875-mile pipeline that would run from Morgan, Montana to Steele City, Nebraska. Building this link would allow 830,000 barrels of oil per day to move from northern Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Supporters speak of improved energy security and jobs. Opponents say the pipeline will increase greenhouse gas emissions and increase the risk of water pollution from spills.
Speaking about the pipeline, Thune said, “We think the president ought to sign that into the law. His administration has done five environmental impact statements, all of which have said it would have a minimal impact on the environment, and his own State Department said it would support 42,000 jobs.”
We’ve looked at the jobs claim several times (the number of permanent jobs is about 50) and in this fact-check, we’re focusing on Thune’s comments about the environmental impact statements.
Thune’s office sent us a list of five studies.
All were conducted by the U.S. State Department, which has jurisdiction because the project crosses the border between Canada and the United States. Whether you see them as five separate studies depends on how you look at the environmental impact statement process.
Before an agency issues a Final Environmental Impact Statement, it first releases a draft version. Citizens, businesses and interest groups then submit comments that may or may not shape the final report.
The State Department ultimately produced two final reports on the Keystone XL pipeline. The first one from August 2011 was preceded by two drafts. The department wrote a second report, partly because it couldn’t meet a legislative deadline to grant final approval, but more fundamentally, because the pipeline project changed. It became shorter and took a different route to avoid a particularly environmentally sensitive area. That second report, released in January 2013, also initially appeared in draft form.
So we have two final environmental impact statements, and three other draft reports. Thune’s office sees that as five studies. Others take a more nuanced view.
James Coleman, a law and business professor at the University of Calgary told PolitiFact while there were five documents, “they’re all really draft and finalized versions of the same analysis.”
Thune contends Obama’s administration found the pipeline would have a minimal impact on the environment. That is a fair paraphrase of the State Department’s findings.
On the key issue of greenhouse gas emissions, the State Department’s final word was that the project was “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands” in Canada. In short, one way or the other, companies in Canada would continue to extract oil — meaning the rate of pollution was unlikely to grow simply due to the pipeline alone.
But the administration has not spoken with a single voice. The Environmental Protection Agency tagged the State Department’s draft from April 2013 with the label “Environmental objections — insufficient information.”
The EPA said, among other things, that the pipeline might have a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions than the State Department concluded. The focus here was on how fast oil would come out of the Canadian fields.
The EPA also raised objections to the State Department’s examination of potential oil spills.
Thune’s claim overstates the number of separate studies the administration has done, glosses over the differences of opinion within the administration, and fails to account for the caveat included in the State Department’s analysis.
We rate the claim Half True.
(Source: Tampa Bay Times-Politifact.com)