The head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee called on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to conduct a “very robust health-impact study” of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday.
A State Department review of the pipeline – which would carry crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries in the United States – “was woefully inadequate,” ignoring or “underestimating” the “health miseries that follow the tar sands,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the committee’s chairwoman, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said in a press conference and subsequent letter to Obama and Kerry.
“The just go forward with this, without even having looked at it – they just glossed over it,” Boxer said. “It’s just wrong, and it’s very important to the people of this nation who are going to feel the impacts from the start of this pipeline all the way to the end.
“Remember,” she added, “this stuff is going to be exported.”
Boxer was joined at the conference by a doctor from Alberta, Canada, an environmental professor from the University of Michigan, a community advocate from the Gulf Coast of Texas, and the volunteer vice president of an environmental task force in Chicago, who all highlighted the apparent ill effects of extracting, transporting and refining tar sands oil.
Notably, indigenous communities living downstream of the tar sands have reported a 30-percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Canada, the group said, and areas near petroleum facilities also tend to have “elevated rates of cancers like leukemia,” according to Stuart Batterman, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
“This is an ongoing tragedy,” asserted the Canadian doctor, John O’Connor, whose patients include Alberta’s indigenous residents. “I appeal to you to keep up the pressure.”
The State Department released its environmental impact statement Jan. 31, and it’s now undergoing a 90-day public comment period from eight federal agencies. Obama must ultimately signoff on the proposal. He has said he would only approve the project if it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”
Industry groups pointed to that statement Wednesday. Highlighting the State Department’s conclusion that the pipeline would not greatly add to the carbon emissions causing climate change, they argued that the morning’s press conference simply represented an attempt to “change the topic.”
“After five years of exhaustive study and numerous reports, the State Department has definitely said the pipeline will have a negligible effect on the environment,” Katie Brown, spokeswoman for the industry-backed group Oil Sands Fact Check, said in a statement. “Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of Americans, from all sides of the political spectrum, want the jobs, economic prosperity and energy security the pipeline would bring.”
The State Department report found that while building the pipeline would create roughly 2,000 construction jobs during the course of two years, it would add up to only 50 permanent jobs once complete.
A group of Republican governors, who met with Obama at the White House on Monday, said the president will likely issue a decision on Keystone “in a couple months.”