As the White House creeps toward a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, some
environmental groups used Monday - the 43rd annual Earth Day - to warn President
Obama again that approval of the massive project would carry very real
"You'll see ... the biggest spread of peaceful civil disobedience in modern American history," Becky Bond, political director of the liberal activist group Credo, told reporters.
The organization has been among the loudest opponents of the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Alberta, Canada, south through the U.S. heartland to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Credo, which helped organized a San Francisco rally earlier this month as Mr. Obama visited the city for a fundraiser, says it already has 60,000 activists willing to get themselves arrested if necessary.
But for critics and supporters of the project, Monday was bigger than just Earth Day. It also was the last day the State Department would accept public comments on its environmental impact study of the pipeline.
The department's draft version of the study, released March 1, offered a largely favorable review of the pipeline and concluded that the Canadian project wouldn't result in notably higher greenhouse gas emissions. The review also found that Keystone would not increase American dependence on crude oil, as many critics had claimed.
The environmental community immediately panned the report and began to flood the State Department with comments; more than 800,000 reportedly have been received, though officials at State wouldn't give a more specific number Monday.
All comments will be reviewed before the department offers its official recommendation on whether Keystone is in the "national interest," an opinion expected in the late summer or early fall.
"I know that we're doing this in a rigorous, transparent and efficient manner, but I don't have a specific date" for the release of the final recommendation, Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman at the State Department, told reporters Monday.
He also promised that the "full text of all comments" will be made available for public inspection "as expeditiously as possible."
In addition to written comments, the department also has held Keystone town hall meetings, including a raucous forum in Omaha, Neb., last week. The state has become ground zero in the environmental fight to stop it, and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed off on the project only after its route was changed in order to avoid sensitive aquifer areas in the state.
While environmental groups in Nebraska and across the nation remain vocal in their opposition, the administration has received many favorable comments as well.
"Keystone is critical to our national security and energy independence," said Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, in comments to the State Department. The trade association represents companies in the gasoline, diesel, home heating oil, chemical and other sectors.
Many other business and labor groups have echoed those sentiments, as has a growing bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, the White House also is coming under international pressure. Numerous officials from Canada have in recent months visited Washington and publicly called on Mr. Obama to green-light Keystone.
They've strongly hinted that, if Keystone isn't built, Canada will seek to ship its vast energy reserves to China and other Asian nations.
Keystone supporters Monday were also touting a poll which found strong public support for the project on both sides of the border.
Some 70 percent of Americans and 60 percent of Canadians surveyed by the Canadian pollster Nik Nanos had a "positive or somewhat positive view" of the project, the firm said. Energy security outrated reducing greenhouse gases as a national priority among American respondents by a 2-to-1 margin, the pollster added.
On Monday, Canada's environment minister, Peter Kent, joined with officials from Alberta to launch the "Joint Oil Sands Monitoring" project, an online clearinghouse with data on air and environmental quality, land use, and biodiversity, along with other information about what's happening in the nation's oil sands region.
"By openly reporting on our data and our progress, we are ensuring the rest of the world recognizes our commitment to responsible and sustainable resource development," said Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen.
Guy Taylor contributed to this report.
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