U.S. State Department lawyer Benes is latest Keystone XL player to go

WASHINGTON Wed Aug 27, 2014 4:20pm EDT

A TransCanada Keystone Pipeline pump station operates outside Steele City, Nebraska March 10, 2014.   REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom

A TransCanada Keystone Pipeline pump station operates outside Steele City, Nebraska March 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Lane Hickenbottom

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. State Department lawyer who played a key role in the Keystone XL pipeline review is moving on, sources said on Wednesday, the latest departure of a senior official involved with the long-delayed project.

Keith Benes helped produce the government's two environmental impact reviews on Keystone, which concluded that the 1,200-mile (1,900-km) pipeline might encourage Canadian oil sands development, but would not meaningfully worsen global climate change.

However, Keystone opponents see the personnel shifts as opportunities to influence one of the most politically charged issues of President Barack Obama's second term.

"This could give us a chance for some fresh conversations," said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group opposed to the pipeline.

The oil industry has been cheered by the official findings that Keystone will not seriously worsen global warming and executives have urged quick approval.

Environmentalists, though, say the plan to move 830,000 barrels per day of crude from Canada to U.S. refineries must be rejected as part of a broader campaign to fight climate change.

Benes, a former corporate lawyer, had worked on the Keystone project since 2007 - the year TransCanada Corp sought U.S. permission to build the cross-border link.

Because the pipeline would extend over the U.S.-Canada border, the State Department must either bless or reject the proposal based on its reading of the national interest.

Obama has said he will have the last word on Keystone and that climate change concerns will weigh on his decision.

Benes, who declined comment through a State Department official, fielded industry and environmentalist concerns in the Keystone debate. In September, he will join Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, a think tank led by former Obama energy advisor Jason Bordoff.

Benes' departure is one of several recent instances of senior staff working on Keystone who have left with the project still in limbo.

Carlos Pascual, who led the State Department's energy policy unit, will join Columbia University next month. Kerri-Ann Jones, the department's environmental officer, left government service in April and Genevieve Walker, who oversaw domestic environmental concerns raised by Keystone, left in January.

A department spokesman said the personnel changes "are commonplace and routine" and would not interrupt the Keystone review.

Nebraska landowners have challenged the pipeline route, and the state's Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on Sept. 5.

A ruling in that case is expected late this year. A decision against the pipeline could spur further State Department study, meaning more delays for a project that TransCanada says has cost roughly $2.4 billion so far.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker. Editing by Ros Krasny and Andre Grenon)

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Comments (3)
unionwv wrote:
“This could give us a chance for some fresh conversations,” said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group opposed to the pipeline.

Mr. Swift is not interested in “conversations”, of course.

The greenie’s goal is to prevent development of Canada’s oil sands, but stopping the pipeline won’t hack it; railroad tank cars are already carrying the oil to the Gulf of Mexico in immense and ever-increasing volume.

Problem is, a lot of folks will die because of railroad accidents, who would have been spared by a relatively safe pipeline.

Aug 27, 2014 5:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
PCCorruption wrote:
“”Long delayed project”"? How about calling it what it is: “”an Obama delayed project”". Everyone agrees it will create jobs. It’s no different than the Alaskan Pipeline and that is working out just fine. Authorize it and move on.

Aug 28, 2014 8:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
sabrefencer wrote:
Most of entire north american continent, would have benefited from this project going thru. Just Obama, with his twisted view of the country, killed the project.So anyone connected to this stalled project from obama, should be wished good riddance, to bad rubbish.

Aug 28, 2014 9:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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