State Department Still Considering Approving Keystone XL Pipeline

A column by Myra Wilensky about Keystone XL.

In June, the State Department issued a Federal Register notice announcing its intent to move ahead with a new environmental impact statement (EIS) as it considers approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Late last year, President Obama rejected TransCanada's bid to build a $7 billion oil pipeline linking the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico so that the State Department could further study the environmental impacts of the pipeline on its 1,179 mile route from Alberta to Nebraska.

Unfortunately, it is not a brand new EIS; it is a supplemental EIS which means the State Department will take the document they issued last year and just add some new information to it. The original EIS failed to include the required government-to-government consultation with Indian Tribes and did not adhere to the laws regarding tribes, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The proposed northern segment of the pipeline route threatens tribal burial and cultural sites as well as the Mni Wicone watershed.

Many tribes expressed deep concern about the failure of the State Department to conduct full government-to-government consultation with tribes during the development and finalization of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued in August 2011. Executive Order 13175 requires federal agencies, including the State Department, to establish “an accountable process to ensure meaningful and timely input by tribal officials in the development of regulatory policies that have tribal implications.” The Executive Order further directs that “no agency shall promulgate any regulation that has tribal implications” unless the agency has “consulted with tribal officials early in the process of developing the proposed regulation.” Unfortunately, tribes believe that this Administration's commitment to meaningfully engage tribes in regulatory actions that impact them was not fulfilled. The supplemental EIS provides the State Department with an opportunity to correct this.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) believes this time around the State Department should perform a thorough and serious environmental review of the Keystone XL Pipeline, including formal government-to-government consultation with tribes on the potential impacts to environmental and cultural resources. The new EIS should analyze the safety issues involved with transporting corrosive tar sands in pipelines, and account for the increased carbon emissions that will speed global warming, risks to endangered species and important habitat, and protection of vital water supplies. Affected tribes also should be included in the supplemental EIS process as consulting agencies. The NWF encourages the State Department to conduct public hearings with tribal members so they can be fully informed about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. These hearings should be meant to fully inform the tribal “public” and cannot be substituted for the required formal tribal consultation.

The NWF has a long history of partnering with Native American Tribes to conserve and protect wildlife for our children’s future and currently partners with a number of tribes regarding concerns about the Keystone Pipeline.

The administration will accept public comments until July 30, 2012 on the supplementary EIS for the segment of Keystone XL that runs from Alberta to Steele City, Neb. The notice can be found here.

Myra Wilensky is NWF’s Tribal Global Warming Outreach Manager. She works with tribes and inter-tribal organizations nationwide on energy and climate issues. She has worked with tribes for 10 years. The mission of NWF’s Tribal Lands Conservation Program is to partner with sovereign tribal nations to solve today’s conservation challenges for future generations.