By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON Feb 26 The State Department acted
properly in its choice of an outside contractor to review the
Keystone XL oil pipeline, a U.S. report said on Wednesday,
raising calls by the project's supporters for President Barack
Obama to approve it.
The State Department inspector general's report cleared the
State Department of accusations by environmentalists there was
undue influence by the pipeline's developer on a draft federal
environmental review of the contentious project.
TransCanada Corp had recommended four companies to
the State Department to do an environmental review, including
Environmental Resources Management, Inc, or ERM, but did not
tell the department it had previously worked with the company.
Under U.S. law, major industrial projects like Keystone,
which would carry 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Canada
to the U.S. Gulf, must undergo an environmental review.
The process the State Department used to select ERM to help
prepare the report on Keystone "substantially followed"
guidance, the inspector general said in a long-awaited report.
At times, the State Department was more rigorous than it
needed to be, the report added.
Republican lawmakers said the report should clear the way
for approval, which they have been urging for five years.
"Another day and another government report that finds no
reason to continue blocking this common-sense, job-creating
project," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for U.S. House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in
Environmentalists said the report showed the approval
process was irresponsible and vowed to keep fighting Keystone.
Supporters of the $5.4 billion pipeline say it would create
thousands of temporary construction jobs, improve U.S. energy
security and relations with Canada.
But opponents say the oil sands, which are
emissions-intensive to produce, would worsen climate change and
that the massive pipeline would slow development of alternatives
Approval is a tricky decision for Obama, whose Democratic
Party contains environmentalists who want to stop the project,
and union workers who support it.
SECOND HURDLE CLEARED IN AS MANY MONTHS
Wednesday's report said the contractor selection process
"can be improved," as very little documentation is required by
regulations. Still, the State Department met the minimal
requirements, it said.
It was the second major hurdle that Keystone, which would
link Alberta's oil sands to refineries in Texas, had cleared in
as many months. In January, the State Department said in a final
environmental review, also conducted by ERM, that the pipeline
would not cause undue harm and would not speed up development of
the oil sands.
Several agencies, including the Environmental Protection
Agency, and the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce
have been working with the State Department to decide whether
the pipeline is in the national interest since the environmental
review was published. The process is due to last through April.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama are expected to make
a final decision on Keystone after the agencies finish their
work, but they are under no timeline to do so.
"This process has stunk start to finish," said Bill
McKibben, the co-founder of the environmental group 350.org.
"The real scandal in Washington is how much is legal."
His group said up to 1,000 protesters would demonstrate
against Keystone on Sunday outside Kerry's house in Washington
before risking arrest at the White House.