Why the odds are increasing for Keystone XL pipeline approval – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – January 16, 2014)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The U.S. State Department is expected to release a final environmental impact report around the last week of January that will support the Keystone XL, bolstering the odds that President Barack Obama will approve the controversial Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline.

After more than five years of review, State is expected to release a voluminous Final Environmental Impact Statement that will include a major analysis of the surge in oil transportation by rail, growing markets for oil sands crude and climate change impacts. Observers expect the report to conclude that Canada’s oil sands will get to market with or without Keystone.

The report is expected to influence the President’s final word on the project, which would come after a 90-day national interest determination. There are conflicting views on the timing of that final decision and worries the final phase could drag on.

Some believe the President should move quickly and avoid making Keystone a mid-term election issue. Others argue the President could take until the summer to conclude his review to demonstrate the project was carefully considered and prevent legal challenges. On its website, State says it “intends to provide an additional opportunity for the public to comment during the National Interest Determination (NID) period that will begin with the release the Final SEIS.”

Russ Girling, president and CEO of Keystone XL proponent TransCanada Corp., said it’s time to get on with decision-making.

“I can’t think of anything new for us to say, I can’t think of anything new that our opponents have to say in that public comment period,” he said in Toronto Wednesday. “That said, they very well might hold more public comment meetings. We have known that from the beginning that that period is an up-to-90-day process under the executive order. And what process they are going to use they have not announced yet.”

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, re-enforced expectations of a positive outcome for Keystone on Tuesday when he said recent railroad accidents are increasing the chances that President Obama will approve Keystone and that the debate is starting to swing back and put “more pressure on him to approve” the pipeline.

There are other telltale signs the project will be approved.

Observers say the U.S. environmental lobby, which made Keystone the main focus of its climate change campaign last year, is reducing the noise about the pipeline and moving to new targets.

“It’s been strangely quiet, especially as rumors fly with the Keystone final EIS announcement coming in the next few weeks,” one source said.

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