Democratic senators who favor completing the Keystone XL pipeline, including some of the party’s most vulnerable senators up for re-election, are once again prodding the White House to make up its mind.
In a new letter to President Barack Obama, 11 Democrats are making a pre-recess push for a May 31 deadline for action. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota spearheaded the new letter along with new Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.
Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolina joined Montana Democrats Jon Tester and John Walsh in signing on to the letter with Heitkamp and Landrieu. Begich, Pryor, Landrieu, Hagan and Walsh are all facing the voters this fall in states lost by Obama in 2012. The senators also want Secretary of State John Kerry to move swiftly to report on the national interest determination related to the Keystone project after a current period for comment runs out.
“Given that there has been little change from previous conclusions reached, we believe that an ultimate decision should not be delayed any longer than is reasonably necessary,” the senators wrote.
The full text of the letter to Obama appears below:
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to request that you use your executive authority to implement an explicit timeline for Secretary of State John Kerry to make a national interest determination on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application. At the expiration of the current 90-day comment and consultation period for certain federal agencies, there should be a date certain no later than 15 days after that date for Secretary Kerry to provide you with his national interest determination recommendation. Finally, we ask that you commit to making your final decision on the permit application no later than May 31, 2014.
We respect the need for a final 30-day public comment period, a period that closed on Friday, March 7, 2014. It is important that at every step of this process that the public and other stakeholders are able to provide their feedback in response to the Environmental Impact Statements released through the State Department as part of the permit application process. We also respect the need for relevant federal agencies and officials to weigh-in with Secretary Kerry, pursuant to Executive Order 13337, so that they may express their views and assistance in order for Secretary Kerry to make a fully informed national interest determination.
However, this is a process that has now gone on well past five years, has involved two applications, five federal reviews, multiple open comment periods, and numerous opportunities for consultation and comment at either public forums or at staff-level meetings. The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), released by the State Department on January 31, 2014, was well over 2,000 pages and included an expanded analysis of potential oil releases; an expanded climate change analysis; an updated oil market analysis incorporating new economic modeling; an expanded analysis of rail transport; and additional analysis regarding alternative modes of transportation beyond rail.
After taking all of this additional information into account, the Final SEIS still reached virtually the same conclusion as previous reviews, that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil-prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.” Also, over half of the extraction today employs more traditional in situ drilling technologies, and will be used to recover a large majority of the resource. Given that there has been little change from previous conclusions reached, we believe that an ultimate decision should not be delayed any longer than is reasonably necessary.
This process has been exhaustive in its time, breadth, and scope. It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify. This is an international project that will provide our great friend and ally Canada, a direct route to our refineries. These refineries were specifically built to process and refine heavy crude, and Canadian crude will help replace heavy crude imports from unstable and unfriendly countries like Venezuela. Canada has done its part and has been a willing and patient partner throughout this process. This project will enhance our relationship with Canada and increase our drive towards North American energy security and independence, and there is no consultation required to arrive at that conclusion.
Given all these facts, we believe that after the 90-day period in which certain executive agencies and officials can provide comment and consultation to Secretary of State Kerry has expired, there should be a date certain no later than 15 days after that date for Secretary Kerry to provide you with his national interest determination recommendation.
We cannot miss another construction season, given the long cold winter this year along the Keystone XL route and the time required for ground thaw, we could be looking at a very short season. We need a definitive timeline laid out, a timeline that reduces the comment period for federal agencies, officials and other entities. A timeline that requires Secretary Kerry to present you with his national interest determination shortly after the comment and consultation period ends. This decision must not drag on into the summer.
The time to act is now Mr. President, please use your executive authority to expedite this process to a swift conclusion and a final decision so that we can all move forward on other energy infrastructure needs in this country. We ask that you bring this entire process to an end no later than May 31, 2014, and that your final decision be the right one, finding that the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.