Want to Submit a Comment on the Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement? Read This First!

The public comment period for the Keystone XL Pipeline Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is one of the few opportunities for the voice of the people to be heard in the federal planning process. The review period ends on April 22, and then the Department of State (DOS) is required to produce a Final EIS that includes a response to all substantive comments as part of finalizing the EIS, and to make every reasonable attempt to consider the issues or alternatives raised.

The key word in that sentence is substantive.

Substantive comments are defined as those that raise, debate, or question a point of fact or policy by doing one or more of the following:

  • Questioning, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of information in the EIS.
  • Questioning, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of environmental analysis.
  • Presenting reasonable alternatives other than those presented in the EIS.
  • Causing changes or revisions in the proposal.

Comments in favor of or against a proposed action or alternatives, or comments that only agree or disagree with government policy, are not considered substantive and can be dismissed. In other words, if all someone does is comment that big oil is evil, express some fear for the world we are leaving our grandchildren, or berate politicians, the only heartburn you’re causing the project proponent is the time it takes to record your comment and then they can move on to building their project – thank you very much. Your comment really is just a tally that totals to a soundbite of number of comments received.

There’s definitely value in any comment, even if it only expresses opposition, but there’s potential to easily do much more.

As I wrote in my blog article “An Insider’s Take on the Keystone Pipeline Project and SEIS” (http://puma-diaries.com/2013/03/04/an-insiders-take-on-the-keystone-pipeline-project-and-supplemental-eis/) there is a landfills’ worth of garbage in the SEIS that’s worth excavating – material that provides ample fodder for true substantive comments.

And THAT may be the most productive possible outcome of the Keystone comment period: bury the DOS under a mountain of substantive comments that call into question every inappropriate method of data collection or source, every inaccurate or misleading result, and every hedged conclusion. The goal needs to be to call the entire process into question, cause delays for new data collection, and make them truly have to respond to a ”major spills-worth” of comments.

The Keystone SEIS contains the standard review of existing conditions and assessment of impacts that’s part of all Environmental Impact Statements. If there’s a particular issue that interests you, I encourage you to pick a chapter and tear into it in a quest for “substantiveness.” You can find the SEIS here:  http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/draftseis/index.htm.

Based on my experience preparing and reviewing similar documents, here are a few of what I believe are significant, and substantive, deficiencies of the SEIS, to help you submit substantive comments to your statement of opposition. Feel free to “personalize” any of these, and by all means, include your opinion. Let the government know exactly how you feel and remember to strive for “substantiveness!”

Please send your comments on the SEIS to this email address:  keystonecomments@state.gov.  Open the floodgates!

Wetlands – The number, type, and area of wetlands disturbed by the proposed project is based primarily on desktop reviews, which are inaccurate and incomplete, and typically significantly underestimate actual wetlands.  A decision to approve Keystone should not be based upon anything other than a full and thorough Federal Jurisdictional Wetland delineation conducted on the ground of all proposed routes, facilities, and alternatives.   Furthermore, most of the wetlands crossed are identified as emergent wetlands.  The report conveniently dismisses emergent wetlands from permanent impacts, so acreages are not large.  Whether its introduction of invasive plants, loss of microtopographic diversity of the ground surface, or other impacts, emergent wetlands are never the same after a pipeline crosses.  It misrepresents the truth to delete emergent wetlands from impacts.  The acreage of emergent wetlands, as determined by actual field surveys needs to be included in both the calculations of permanent wetlands disturbed, and in the determination of mitigation requirements.

Wetland Mitigation – The SEIS does not provide a mitigation plan for wetland impacts.  Mitigation needs cannot be assessed until field surveys determine actual impacts.  A decision to approve Keystone should only be made if it can be demonstrated that adequate mitigation will be performed to offset unavoidable impacts.

Cultural Resources – The SEIS reflects that cultural resources investigations have not been completed on over 8,000 acres of land to be impacted by the project.  The project decision should be made based upon a full and thorough assessment of impacts and mitigation measures of the entire project, including reroutes, that is possible only when all surveys are completed.

Rare Species – The list of rare species impacted by the project is based almost entirely on existing information from government databases, and not on surveys of the specific project area. Accordingly, actual impacts cannot be assessed and a decision regarding the significance of impacts is not possible.   Field surveys should be conducted of all project routes, facilities, and alternatives for rare species of wildlife, plants, and insects, so that an adequate review of the project can be performed in full compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Spill Prevention and Containment – There is no project-specific Spill Prevention, Containment & Control (SPCC) Plan.  In light of the recent spill of tar sands oil in Arkansas and numerous other pipeline ruptures, the likelihood of a spill cannot be dismissed as unlikely, rather it’s inevitable.  Site specific information is the key to true preparedness, and Keystone needs to produce site specific SPCC plans for every contingency, community, and significant resource along the entire proposed route, ancillary facilities, and alternatives.  Furthermore, documentation that the proposed SPCC measures have been successfully applied needs to be provided, in particular because they do not seem to be working in Arkansas.

The Platte River – The significance of the Platte River is addressed several times, as is US Fish and Wildlife Service opposition to Keystone withdrawing water for pressure-testing the pipe, because “any withdrawal would be significant.”  The SEIS ignores this and indicates that Keystone will simply let USFWS know before they take water from the Platte.   The project should not be approved until much more information is provided demonstrating that any withdrawal would be IN-significant.  The assessment should provide site-specific information on the location of the withdrawal, the location of water releases, and erosion control measures.

Aquifers – One of the most controversial aspects of Keystone is its crossing of important aquifers.  To assess potential impacts of spills to groundwater, Keystone uses existing studies of leaks from underground storage tanks (USTs).  They acknowledge that products in USTs are different than crude oil, but they say they correlate without providing adequate basis.  In light of recent spills, it is imperative that the risk of spills be assessed based on appropriate studies of the specific tar sands product to be transported by Keystone. If pertinent studies do not exist, they need to be performed before approval can be considered, in view of the significant risk to human health and the environment.

The Lack of Project-specific Construction Planning – Many specific issues are addressed in the body of the SEIS by referring to the Project Construction, Mitigation, and Reclamation Plan (CMRP) (Appendix G).  However this CMRP provided is simply a generic document containing “typical” drawings, with no information specific to the Keystone.  Approval of the project needs to be based upon final construction drawings that show the specific locations where each CMRP measure needs to be applied.

Global Warming – The assessment of the projects’ impact on global warming is inadequate in the SEIS.  The assessment should contain a thorough and accurate assessment of how much product will be transported by the pipeline on an annual basis, and the amount of greenhouse gases that will be emitted as a result of the burning of that product.  The impacts of these emissions need to be thoroughly addressed before approval is even considered.

Categories: Environmental Issues

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