Environmentalists opposed to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline today dominated the early moments of a charged public hearing on the $7 billion Canada-to-U.S. project that saw some in their ranks trade outbursts with pro-XL union members and petroleum industry supporters.
Today's State Department hearing on Keystone XL marks the beginning of the last lap for a fracas that pits Republicans, oil companies and business lobbies touting the pipeline's economic upside against green groups, liberal Democrats and Plains states landowners who warn of adverse ecological impacts. Amid that mounting political pressure on the Obama administration from both sides of the debate, early testimony often drew emotionally charged responses from the crowd.
Dozens of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) members clad in orange shirts booed green-group critics of the pipeline to show support for the project. Environmentalists, many wearing blue shirts printed with an anti-XL slogan, made their feelings just as clear in cheers for speakers who implored State officials to reject the permit bid by Alberta-based TransCanada Corp.
The standoff reached a midday peak, as supporters and opponents of the pipeline -- which would nearly double U.S. imports of emissions-intensive crude from the Canadian oil sands if it wins a permit from the Obama administration -- staged rallies outside the nationally televised hearing in downtown Washington, D.C.
But inside the room, tempers ran high from the start.
"Are these hearings simply a farce? Are they a parody of the public process and parody of the law?" Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica told State emissaries and the crowd, accusing the department of "making excuses for TransCanada" based on internal emails that his group sued to force into the open (E&E Daily, Oct. 3).
National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger also took aim at the Obama administration in his three-minute allotted time to speak against the XL line, wondering why Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's schedule included a meeting "with corporate leaders" but no appearance at the pipeline hearing.
The hearing's first hour, while dominated by critics of Keystone XL, also featured testimony from residents along the pipeline route and others who urged State to greenlight its construction. Their case was summed up by the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and LIUNA at a morning event that dueled with an environmentalist press conference.
"The United States has a choice of receiving more oil from its most secure, most stable and most reliable trade partner, Canada, or to continue to import from less stable locations that do not share the interest and values of Americans," TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a statement issued as he appeared with fellow industry and labor backers of the project.
A final ruling on Keystone XL is expected from State before year's end, although the decision could yet reach the White House if interagency review results in a referral to its Council on Environmental Quality.
Meanwhile, 36 House Democrats weighed in on the process today in a letter to Clinton asking for assurances that the 830,000 barrels of oil-sands crude set for daily shipping through the XL link would benefit U.S. consumers rather than overseas markets.
"The Keystone XL pipeline will not, as its proponents claim, reduce imports of foreign oil from Venezuela or the Middle East if the final destination of Keystone XL crude oil is the global market," the Democrats, led by Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.), wrote -- notably declining to lean on Clinton for a rejection of the permit.
"We urge you ensure that the approval of this project, if it occurs, requires the oil and refined product the pipeline transports to be sold in the United States. Anything less would certainly not be in the national interest."