WASHINGTON The top U.S. environmental regulator on Thursday said her agency would soon comment on the proposed $7 billion Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, adding she was concerned about emissions and potential leaks that could result from the project.
"We have comments we are just about completing on the current environmental impact statement," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a Howard University event with youth environment leaders.
Jackson listed concerns about the pipeline including additional greenhouse gas emissions from producing the oil sands; the possibility of leaks on the line; and harmful emissions from refineries in communities along the Gulf Coast that could result from the project.
"This isn't a little tiny pipeline, this is a pipeline that cuts our country literally in half," she added. The $7 billion project would take 700,000 barrels per day or more from Canada through six states to refineries in Texas.
The State Department has the power to decide whether TransCanada Corp's pipeline can go forward because the project crosses the national border. It hopes to make the decision by the end of this year.
If the EPA or another agency takes issue with State Department review it could send the decision on the pipeline up to the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.
Some environmentalists wonder if the EPA has the political capital to take a stand against the pipeline, which supporters say would create thousands of jobs and boost oil imports from a friendly neighbor.
The EPA has delayed several decisions on clean air rules in recent months, amid opposition from Republicans in the House of Representatives and polluters.
In September, President Barack Obama directed the EPA to delay a major smog rule, a move that was slammed by environmentalists.
The EPA has rejected previous State Department assessments on the line, but worked with the agency on its final one issued in late August.
A U.S. official told Reuters earlier this week the goal of deciding by the end of the year could slip as the administration's top focus is to conduct a thorough review.
"OBAMA SAID IT BEST"
In Nebraska, Governor Dave Heineman is holding a special session of the legislature on November 1 to see if the state can reroute the line away from the ecologically rich Sand Hills region and a major aquifer.
TransCanada has said it is too late in the process to change the route.
Asked whether she would stand up for communities that could be affected by the pipeline, Jackson said: "Yes I will, that's our job."
Obama said on Wednesday during an event with young people in Denver that he was aware of worries on the line.
"We're looking at it right now, all right?" Obama replied to an activist who had interrupted his comments. "No decision's been made and I know your deep concern about it, so we will address it.
Jackson said the Obama had said it best on Wednesday and that he has "certainly heard your voices and is very much aware of the concerns that have been raised."
Some 1,200 opponents of the line were arrested at the White House this summer and another protest is scheduled there on November 6.
Jackson said it was "awesome that we are having this conversation in this country" about the pipeline.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)