WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Approval or denial of the Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to have an impact on the rate of extraction of heavy-carbon tar sands oil in Canada, according to a highly anticipated State Department review released Friday.
The environmental impact study should end the debate on the project, supporters of the controversial pipeline said, and President Obama should back the project that would bring oil from the tar sands of northwest Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Congressional Republicans have been particularly vocal supporters of the pipeline.
"The Keystone XL Pipeline is the single largest shovel-ready project in America, ready to go, but for years President Obama and his hard-left allies have stalled these jobs in a maze of red tape," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "But if the president meant what he said this week about 'a year of action,' he'll act now on this important project that won't cost taxpayers a dime to build but will bring thousands of private sector jobs to Americans who desperately need them."
A 2011 State Department report concluded that several thousand temporary construction jobs would be created by construction, in addition to a few dozen permanent jobs associated with operating the pipeline.
Environmentalists say the 1,700-mile pipeline would have a devastating impact on the environment and have pressured Obama to reject it.
Obama rejected an attempt by Republicans before the 2012 election to get him to approve the pipeline more rapidly.
At that time, Republicans tried to force his decision by attaching a provision in legislation for a short-term extension to the payroll tax cut that required him to either issue a permit to allow the pipeline to be built or explain why it was not in the national interest.
At the time, Obama said he was rejecting the project not its merits, but because the arbitrary deadline prevented the State Department from properly weighing the impact of the project.
State is overseeing the review, because the pipeline crosses an international border, but Obama is expected to weigh heavily in the ultimate decision if the pipeline is built or not.
A draft impact study released last March angered environmentalists by saying Keystone won't matter much, because Canada's tar sands will likely be extracted with or without it.
In a June speech that environmentalists applauded, Obama said he would only approve the pipeline if it does not substantially increase greenhouse gas emission.
Opponents of the pipeline have kept up pressure on Obama to reject the pipeline. One group led by major Democratic donor Tom Steyer, NextGen Climate Action, even ran national television ads this week calling the pipeline a "sucker punch to America's heartland."
The release of the review now triggers a 90-day federal process for determining if the project is in the nation's interest. The ultimate decision isn't expected until late spring at the earliest.
"Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline."