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Keystone XL construction to begin next year, but indigenous activists vow to keep fighting

Construction on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is set to rev up next year. The project received a green light from the State Department late last week — the latest salvo in a contentious decade-long battle between indigenous communities and TransCanada, the pipeline’s developer.

On Friday, the State Department issued a 338-page supplemental environmental impact statement for an alternate route through Nebraska. The agency has determined that major environmental damage stemming from the $8 billion, 1,180-mile project would be “negligible to moderate.” According to the report, there will be safeguards in place that would prevent a leak from contaminating ground or surface water.

“Keystone XL has undergone years of extensive environmental review by federal and state regulators,” TransCanada spokesperson Matthew John said. “All of these evaluations show that Keystone XL can be built safely and with minimal impact to the environment.”

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The review comes a little more than a month after a Montana court required the State Department to conduct a separate analysis — not part of the pipeline’s 2014 environmental impact study — of the updated route under the National Environmental Policy Act. The new route will be longer than TransCanada’s preferred route.

Following the release of the environmental assessment, TransCanada lawyers filed a response on Friday to address concerns by environmental and indigenous groups that are challenging the pipeline’s permit to cross into the U.S. from Canada in the Montana court.

But as TransCanada moves ahead with plans to construct the pipeline — which would carry up to 830,000 barrels of heavy crude from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska — tribal communities living in its path remain steadfast in challenging the review’s conclusions.

“It’s a total disregard for the land, and the animals, and the people that reside on it and have for generations,” Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and a vocal opponent of major oil-pipeline projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline, told Grist. “I think the thing to remember is that the people who are building this pipeline — they don’t care because they don’t have to live here. But it’s not going to stop me from fighting back.”

Pipeline-opponents on the front lines like Spotted Eagle are gearing up for what comes next, pledging to fight until the pipeline project is halted for good. Earlier this month, the Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota sued the Trump administration after it granted the pipeline a permit which they claimed didn’t assess how it’s construction “would impact their water and sacred lands.”

Indigenous groups aren’t the only ones voicing their discontent — the Sierra Club called the new State Department report a “sham review.” “We’ve held off construction of this pipeline for 10 years, and regardless of this administration’s attempts to force this dirty tar sands pipeline on the American people,” said Kelly Martin, director of the group’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “That fight will continue until Keystone XL is stopped once and for all.”

Members of the public have 45 days to comment on the State Department’s review, but Spotted Eagle is skeptical that the powers that be will even bother to consult with indigenous people residing in the pipeline’s route. “There is no regard to nation-to-nation relationships with tribes,” she says.

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Keystone XL construction to begin next year, but indigenous activists vow to keep fighting

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The Keystone pipeline has leaked way more often than TransCanada said it would.

Over the weekend, Indonesia raised the alert on Mount Agung to level IV — its highest level — as a huge plume of ash and steam began to pour from the volcano’s summit in eastern Bali.

One U.S. geologist already labeled it a “full eruption.” About 100,000 people have been asked to evacuate the area nearest the volcano, where more than 1,000 people were killed during an explosive eruption in 1963.

Local aid organizations have begun distributing gas masks and goggles to residents, reports the BBC, as well as solar-powered televisions for emergency announcements. The island’s airport has shut down and hundreds of flights have been canceled.

Should the eruption escalate, it could have worldwide climate implications, including temporarily cooler temperatures. In 1815, the eruption of nearby Mount Tambora altered weather patterns worldwide, leading to crop failures in Europe and the infamous 1816 “year without a summer” believed to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

Agung very likely won’t become a Tambora-scale disaster, but its ash and gas emissions could still block some of the sun’s rays for the next year or two. After that, however, the global climate will continue to behave as if the eruption had never happened.

You can watch live video of the eruption here.


The Keystone pipeline has leaked way more often than TransCanada said it would.

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Nebraska gives the green light to Keystone XL — with a twist.

In a long-awaited decision, the Nebraska Public Service Commission announced its vote Monday to approve a tweaked route for the controversial tar sands oil pipeline.

The 3-2 decision is a critical victory for pipeline builder TransCanada after a nearly decade-long fight pitting Nebraska landowners, Native communities, and environmentalists activists against a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

After years of intense pressure, President Obama deemed the project “not in the national interest” in 2015; President Trump quickly reversed that decision earlier this year. But TransCanada couldn’t go forward without an approved route through Nebraska, which was held up by legal and political proceedings.

In the meantime, it’s become unclear whether TransCanada will even try to complete the $8 billion project. The financial viability of tar sands oil — which is expensive to extract and refine — has shifted in the intervening years, and while KXL languished, Canadian oil companies developed other routes to market.

The commission’s decision also opens the door to new litigation and land negotiations. TransCanada will have to secure land rights along the new route; one dissenting commissioner noted that many landowners might not even know the pipeline would potentially cross their property.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline, which KXL was meant to supplement, spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. Due to a 2011 Nebraska law, the commissioners were unable to consider pipeline safety or the possibility of spills in their decision.

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Nebraska gives the green light to Keystone XL — with a twist.

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Oil companies are just not that into Keystone XL.

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Oil companies are just not that into Keystone XL.

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The newly revived Keystone XL’s future is in the hands of a red state.

Politico reports that senators from California, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii came out with legislation to give undocumented agricultural laborers a “blue card” — a sort of talisman to ward off deportation.

To qualify, immigrants would need to have worked at least 100 days on farms in each of the previous two years. They would have the opportunity to convert their blue cards to some form of legal residency later on.

This would come as welcome relief to workers who produce labor-intensive products like milk, fruit, and vegetables. On the other hand, it’s an example of government trying to keep farm labor semi-legal and cheap. Because most farmworkers live in a legal gray zone, they have little bargaining power and few options, which keeps wages from rising.

It’s a tough deal: We’d be asking immigrants to keep our food prices down by taking hard, low-paying jobs, and in exchange they’d get an anti-deportation card.

On yet another hand — we need at least three hands to juggle this one! — that kind of tradeoff is inevitable. For now, Congress is unlikely pass any immigrant protections unless the farm lobby can pull in Republican votes.


The newly revived Keystone XL’s future is in the hands of a red state.

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Who installs more solar power? Republicans and Democrats are pretty much tied.

On Thursday, TransCanada, the corporation behind the infamous project, resubmitted an application to the State Department for permission to build the pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

Just two days earlier, President Donald Trump had signed a presidential memorandum formally inviting the company to give the pipeline another go. Apparently, TransCanada got right down to work.

“This privately funded infrastructure project will help meet America’s growing energy needs,” said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, “as well as create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs.” A 2013 State Department report found the pipeline would create 28,000 jobs, but just 35 would be permanent.

Barack Obama rejected the pipeline plan in 2015, after indigenous groups and environmentalists fought it for nearly a decade. Now that a new application has been submitted, the project needs to be OK’d by both the State Department and Trump to proceed. Nebraska also needs to review and approve the project, which it’s expected to do.

Last June, TransCanada took advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal Trump disdains — to file a $15 billion claim against the U.S. government for rejecting its Keystone proposal. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Originally posted here – 

Who installs more solar power? Republicans and Democrats are pretty much tied.

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Keystone leaks and reminds us why we’re glad there isn’t an even bigger pipeline out there

Keystone leaks and reminds us why we’re glad there isn’t an even bigger pipeline out there

By on 4 Apr 2016commentsShare

A major section of the original Keystone pipeline is out of commission after an oil spill near the pipeline was detected in South Dakota on April 2.

The spill, estimated at 187 gallons of crude oil, serves as a reminder of the risks that pipelines pose — and that with the Obama administration’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, we’ve likely avoided the potential for an even bigger, more disastrous spill.

Part of the original argument against Keystone XL was that eventually, the proposed pipeline was bound to spill. A 2013 Forbes article (which claimed that it was “crazy” to think Keystone XL wouldn’t leak) pointed out that as pipelines age, they are often not properly maintained, leading to a greater possibility of a leak occurring.

The recent oil spill was discovered, of course, by TransCanada’s state-of-the-art spill detection technology — oh, what’s that? My state-of-the-art Tweet detecting system’s “Bill McKibben” sensor just went off:

Apparently, a South Dakota landowner first noticed signs of a spill and informed TransCanada of the leak. As a result, TransCanada shut down the section of the pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing, Okla. (The section of Keystone that runs from Cushing to Texas is still in operation.)

TransCanada says that “no significant impact to the environment has been observed” from the April 2 spill. We hope it stays that way — and in the meantime, we’re glad that there’s one less huge pipeline out there to worry about. Spilled milk might not be worth crying over, but unspilled pipelines are definitely worth celebrating.

Correction: An earlier version of this article’s headline read “Keystone leaks and reminds us why we’re glad there isn’t an XL pipeline out there.” In fact, the southern leg of the XL pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas is in operation. Grist regrets the error.



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Keystone leaks and reminds us why we’re glad there isn’t an even bigger pipeline out there

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Obama says “no” to TransCanada’s latest Keystone gambit

Obama says “no” to TransCanada’s latest Keystone gambit

By on 5 Nov 2015 4:28 amcommentsShare

On Monday, TransCanada tried a desperate move to salvage its plan to build the Keystone XL pipeline: It asked the State Department to delay its review of the project, in the hopes that the delay would put the decision in the hands of the next president, and in the hopes that the next president would be a Republican.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration said no dice. From The Washington Post:

The State Department formally rejected a request by TransCanada Corp. for a “pause” in the pipeline’s approval process, a move that would have effectively deferred a decision until after next year’s U.S. presidential elections.

State Department officials said the administration’s review of the project —now in its seventh year — would continue, barring a decision by TransCanada to withdraw its application altogether.

Climate activists and anti-Keystone protestors cheered the decision, of course, and called for Obama to just reject the whole damn pipeline already. “Now that he’s called TransCanada for delay of game, it’s time for President Obama to blow the whistle and end this pipeline once and for all,” said Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org.

Activists are pushing the president to reject Keystone XL before the big U.N. climate talks that will begin on Nov. 30 in Paris, to show the world that he’s serious about reining in carbon pollution. There’s a good chance he’ll do it. Stay tuned.


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Obama says “no” to TransCanada’s latest Keystone gambit

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TransCanada has big new plans for moving oil around, and you won’t like them

Since Keystone is stalled out …

TransCanada has big new plans for moving oil around, and you won’t like them

By on 20 Feb 2015commentsShare

TransCanada, the company pushing the Keystone XL plan, is cooking up some new projects. Watch out.

First: A pipeline going in the other direction. This one would move oil from North Dakota, where drilling is booming, up to Canada. The company hopes it will be particularly appealing since the alternative method of moving that volatile crude is by rail — and, unfortunately, the trains keep blowing up. From the Associated Press:

TransCanada Corp.’s proposed $600 million Upland Pipeline would begin near the northwestern North Dakota oil hub of Williston and go north into Canada about 200 miles. At peak operation it would transport up to 300,000 barrels of oil daily, connecting with other pipelines including the Energy East pipeline across Canada. …

TransCanada hopes to have the Upland Pipeline operating in 2018, pending approval from the U.S. State Department, North Dakota’s Public Service Commission and Canada’s National Energy Board. The company plans to submit an application to the State Department in the second quarter of this year. …

TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata on Thursday said the company can’t speculate on whether it might run into similar problems with Upland [as it has with Keystone]. Company President and CEO Russ Girling last week told analysts and reporters that he hopes the drawn-out Keystone XL process is “an anomaly.”

And though the pipelines-are-safer-than-trains angle is a major selling point for this new project, the company is hedging its bets: TransCanada “will probably enter the rail business in some form or fashion in the coming months,” said its CEO, Russ Girling, in a speech earlier this month. From the Canadian Financial Post:

Facing increased pressure from rail cutting into its business, while the Keystone XL pipeline remains under unending American review, TransCanada Corp. said it is planning to diversify into the oil-by-rail business within months, improving its customers’ ability to connect to its sprawling North American pipeline and storage network. …

TransCanada’s move to include rail in its arsenal has become necessary as rail companies Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. enjoy a windfall from the oil transportation business. TransCanada’s competitors, including Kinder Morgan Inc. and Enbridge Energy Inc., are also building rail capacity to get around pipeline infrastructure constraints.

That oil-by-rail side business would just be a temporary solution until Keystone gets built, Girling said.

Both new efforts could face heavy opposition. Environmental activists are getting good at making big oil infrastructure projects into political sinkholes, and oil trains are coming in for particularly virulent criticism these days. Opposition to Keystone might no longer be an “anomaly,” as Girling described it; try the new normal.



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Contractor That Evaluated Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Keystone XL Report Had Ties to TransCanada

Mother Jones

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd”>

This story originally appeared in Huffington Post and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The contractor that evaluated greenhouse gas emissions for the State Department’s Keystone XL report is the latest company to come under fire for its ties to TransCanada, the prospective builder of the controversial pipeline.

A conflict-of-interest statement from the consulting firm ICF International, submitted to the State Department in 2012, reveals that the company had done other work for TransCanada.

ICF International analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil, the kind that would flow through the pipeline, for the State Department’s supplemental draft environmental impact statement, released in March 2013. Its website states that the firm was hired to compare life-cycle emissions associated with oil derived from Canada’s tar sands to those associated with oil from conventional crude.

The final environmental impact statement (FEIS), released in January 2014, also includes ICF International on its list of preparers, with ICF staffers working on the greenhouse gas and market analysis portions of the report.

The FEIS concludes that the projected 830,000 barrels of oil that would flow through the pipeline every day would add between 147 million and 168 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere annually. But it also says that the pipeline would be “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.” In other words, the report concludes, those greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil would probably be produced with or without Keystone.

The State Department recently posted ICF’s conflict-of-interest forms on its website. Before it was approved to work on the supplemental draft EIS and the final EIS, the company had to make these disclosures.

ICF International submitted a letter dated Aug. 26, 2012, which said that the firm and its Canadian affiliate, ICF Consulting Canada Inc., had done work for TransCanada before. However, the letter said, “we have thoroughly considered the matter and are confident that this work does not represent an Organizational COI conflict of interest based on several important considerations detailed in the attached materials.”

Those earlier services included work as a subcontractor on the first environmental impact statement for Keystone XL released in August 2011, which was produced by the consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX. “This project represents by far the largest body of ICF work paid for by TransCanada,” ICF said in its letter. But it said the work did not constitute a conflict of interest because “the work was actually overseen and directed by the State Department.”

That kind of arrangement is, in fact, normal: A company seeking the State Department’s approval for a project with potential environmental impacts will fund contractors’ work on the EIS–instead of shifting the cost to the American taxpayer–while the department oversees the actual evaluation.

But that was not the ICF’s only tie to TransCanada. Its 2012 letter said that its Canadian affiliate had been retained by TransCanada Pipelines Limited since 2008–and was still doing work at the time of the disclosure–”to provide advisory services related to air emissions issues associated with operations in Canada and the US” Those services included “climate policy analysis and regulatory support.” ICF said that it was paid “less than $300,000” for that work between 2010 and August 2012, which accounted for “less than 0.1 percent” of its total revenues over that period. The company said that it believed the “nature and scale of this work do not represent an Organizational Conflict of Interest,” but that it would take “additional mitigation measures to ensure that no such conflict arises,” a description of which the company said appeared in its conflict-of-interest plans-and-procedures document. The State Department published the plans-and-procedures document, too, but it is heavily redacted and the mitigation steps are not visible.

ICF has also provided services to other oil interests that support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The firm did consulting work in 2008 for the American Petroleum Institute, evaluating the potential effects on the oil and gas industry from greenhouse gases cap-and-trade legislation then under consideration in Congress. That study concluded that the bill would increase the cost of drilling and operating natural gas wells and would likely lead to a decrease in drilling.

Last year, InsideClimate News noted ICF’s work for pipeline and oil companies generally. The company does not list its clients online.

ICF’s disclosures feed into the allegations that environmental organizations have been making for months about contractors for the Keystone FEIS having conflicts of interest that should have precluded them from working on the report. The State Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report last month concluding that the department had adequately followed its conflict-of-interest procedures in selecting the main FEIS contractor, Environmental Resources Management. Pipeline supporters have said that the inspector general’s report should remove any remaining barriers to approving Keystone.

But the report also noted that the process for selecting contractors requires “very little” documentation and that while those “minimal requirements” had been met, the process “can be improved.” The inspector general had made similar comments about the process in February 2012, in response to earlier conflict-of-interest complaints regarding Cardno ENTRIX.

Now the ICF disclosure is renewing environmentalists’ criticism of the FEIS report. Ross Hammond, a senior climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the disclosure is further evidence that the FEIS was “hopelessly compromised” and that the conflict-of-interest screening procedures “are a complete and total joke.”

“If there’s one thing that the oil industry and environmentalists agree on, it’s that Keystone XL is critical to developing the Canadian tar sands,” said Hammond. “By hiring a known TransCanada contractor to reach the opposite conclusion, State Department bureaucrats have proven that they simply cannot be trusted to oversee an objective and unbiased review of this controversial pipeline.”

Steve Anderson, ICF International’s senior director of public affairs, referred questions to the State Department.

“These documents were submitted to the State Department pursuant to our rigorous guidelines on selection of third party contractors,” said a State Department spokesperson in an email to The Huffington Post. “Every document submitted is thoroughly reviewed by the Department. The Office of Inspector General found that our processes not only avoided conflicts of interest, but were more rigorous than required.”

Environmental groups say that how much the pipeline will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions is a fundamental question for the Obama administration to consider as it decides whether to approve Keystone XL. While the FEIS concluded that the pipeline’s impact would be minimal, another recent study, from the group Carbon Tracker, argues that the State Department report fails to adequately consider the degree to which the pipeline would facilitate more rapid development of the tar sands because shipping the oil by pipeline is cheaper than shipping by rail. The Carbon Tracker study found that “KXL-enabled production” of tar sands oil would create as much as 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050.

President Barack Obama said in his climate change speech last June that Keystone should be approved only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The emissions question, he said, will be “absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward.”

“At this point, it’s no surprise to find yet other questionable consultant on the State Department’s Keystone XL environmental study. And it’s not surprising that an oil pipeline consultant that’s currently working for TransCanada would say there’s no conflict of interest,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “But what’s really important to keep in mind is that State’s study, compromised as it was, found that Keystone XL would create a significant amount of climate pollution–the equivalent of nearly 6 million automobiles–and that the final decision rests with President Obama.”


Contractor That Evaluated Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Keystone XL Report Had Ties to TransCanada

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