House GOP Seek To Force State Department Action On Keystone XL; EPA Gives Ground On GHGs; 4G Wireless May Threaten GPS

August 2011, Vol. 238 No. 8

A House committee voted out a bill 33-13 on June 15 which would force the State Department to decide on the Keystone XL pipeline, an expansion of an existing TransCanada pipeline which would bring oil from Alberta and North Dakota to U.S. refineries.

The North American-Made Energy Security Act (H.R. 1938) was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee with strong Republican and modest Democratic support. The bill says President Obama must issue a final order approving or disapproving the project not later than 30 days after the issuance of the final environmental impact statement but no later than Nov. 1, 2011.

Advocates and critics sparred one day after the bill passed the House committee in a hearing June 16 called to discuss needed changes to pipeline safety laws. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the top Democrat on the full Energy and Commerce Committee, complained about passage of H.R. 1938 the previous day. He said recent pipeline incidents resulting in loss of life, the latest in Pennsylvania in February, are the "canaries in the coal mine." He added that oil companies are rapidly and dramatically expanding the quantity of crude they are moving through U.S. pipelines. He cited concerns raised about the environmental impact of diluted bitumen, which is what the Keystone XL would carry, and said those risks need to be evaluated before the pipeline is approved.

Anthony Swift, policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, gave subcommittee members a long, technical dissertation about the environmental dangers and increasing quantities of diluted bitumen, one variety of tar sands, flowing through U.S. pipelines. He said TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline, one of the first pipelines dedicated to moving diluted bitumen from Canada to the U.S., has had 12 leaks in its first year in operation.

He used that statistic to assail the State Department's latest environmental review of the project, which determined, according to Swift, the Keystone XL pipeline will have a leak due to pipeline corrosion once every 3,400 years and a leak due to flooding and washout once every 87,600 years. He argued the State Department is incompetent to assess safety risks, and that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which has no role in the XL environmental assessment, should take the lead.

Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), responded to Waxman saying the State Department has been studying the Keystone XL expansion for three years and "has been sitting on a foot and a half stack of environmental impact studies." He accused the State Department of "irresponsible foot dragging."

Cynthia L. Quarterman, Administrator at PHMSA, laid out for committee members new fees she wants to charge pipeline companies. This would include reimbursement from project applicants for design review, consulting, and field oversight that the agency performs for new pipeline construction projects exceeding 100 miles in length.