Briefing on Next Steps in the Keystone XL Pipeline Permit Process
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
So with that, let me just turn it over to Kerri-Ann.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Great. Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for being here. I just want to make a few opening comments and then we’ll open it up for your questions.
First of all, I want to let you know that the Department of State is committed to an impartial, rigorous, transparent, and thorough process for the National Interest Determination to determine whether or not this pipeline proposed by Keystone XL is in the national interest. This process, the National Interest Determination, is defined in law an executive order. It requires us to consult with about eight other public agencies. I think many of you probably know which ones they are; I can give you the list if you’re interested.
We also consult with local and state officials. And as you know, right now, we’ve just finished up the last of our public meetings. We felt that we needed additional meetings – these weren’t required, but – to consult with people in Washington. But last week, we consulted with people across the states where this proposed pipeline would cross if it was approved. And in the course of those meetings, we heard from thousands of people, over a thousand people. I was at one meeting in Nebraska where we had 1,200 people.
We’ve heard views from all different sides of this story, and what we want to make sure you understand is that we have not made any decision. No decision has been made, and we are in the process of listening and gathering more information. Part of this is the environmental impact statement, but environment is only a part of it. We also have in this national interest review issues related to energy security and economic development and growth. So we’re in the process, have not made a decision, and we’re doing a very transparent and thorough process.
So with that, let me stop and take questions.
MR. HAMMER: And if you wouldn’t mind identifying yourselves and your news organization. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Joseph Morton with the Omaha World-Herald. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman sent you a letter this week calling on the State Department to use its authority to route the pipeline around the Ogallala aquifer on the argument that that would be in the national interest and in keeping with the executive order. Do you have any reaction to that call to change the routing of the pipeline around the aquifer?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Yes. I received that letter yesterday, and maybe you know this, but last week when I was in Nebraska, I did meet with the governor. The permit that we are looking at is a presidential permit. In the process, though, it’s based on mixed authorities between the states and the federal government, and many states have regulations that, in the course of this, have come into play. So we are in ongoing discussions with Nebraskans, the governor, the people, and the legislators.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Madam Assistant Secretary, I’m with Al Jazeera English. We wanted to know what your opinion is on the fact that there’s been much criticism about these e-mails that were released by an NGO that suggest that not only one of the lobbyists worked for Secretary Clinton, but that there’s also a relationship or a favoritism towards TransCanada, and that was stated in the e-mails. We wanted to know your response to that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, we are running an objective process, and we have met with interested parties from all the different perspectives, including the applicant, environmental groups, yesterday I personally met with a number of faith-based groups, representatives of Native American groups as well as Native American tribes themselves, people from the First Nations in Canada. I also met with a number of student activists. So in the course of this, we have been dealing with many different perspectives, and this is what we are doing. We want to hear from every perspective, and we are on listening mode, and there has been impartiality.
QUESTION: Do you think there’s a conflict of interest that the lobbyist worked for Secretary Clinton, (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Past relationships are not of importance. We have met with everyone who has been representing different perspectives. We have met with a number of environmental groups. We have met with one of them, Friends of the Earth, at least four times. I have met with the National Wildlife Federation. I have met with many of them. And I don’t see any conflict of interest in meeting with all of these groups. We are being impartial. And many people have relationships over the course of time, and I think that what you will see is that we are in listening mode, not having made a decision and not leaning in any one direction at this point.
MR. HAMMER: Thank you. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Gary Gentile with Platts. You mentioned that the environmental impact statement is just one of a number of factors that will be taken into consideration. What percentage of the total decision does the environmental impact statement represent? Is it 50 percent of the decision, 25 percent, or --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: It’s not done as a percentage. It’s done as an overall look at national interest. It’s not a weighted, formulaic approach. It is sorting through the various perspectives and then, within the Department and talking to other agencies, trying to weigh the different factors. So I can’t give you a number. It’s a very important piece, but these other pieces that we are looking at now regarding energy security and economic considerations are also very important.
MR. HAMMER: Okay. Let’s go in back over there.
QUESTION: Hi, (inaudible) with Reuters. When you talk about how you make your decision, would these public meetings that you just had, how do you weigh all the thousands of comments that you’ve gotten? Did you take a tally of for and opposed? Or, I guess, how do you give weight to the different – to the many different opinions that we’re hearing? How are they weighed and judged?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right. Well, as you point out, we’ve heard many, many different opinions across these meetings that we’ve had, a total of nine different meetings and we’ve heard from thousands of people. All of these meetings went very well. People were very civil and respectful, even though these opinions range across the whole spectrum. But we’re not – this is not a voting situation. We are listening and trying to understand perspectives on the national interest. And so in the process of sorting through all of this information, we will evaluate and make the best decision we possibly can based on the information we’re getting both from the public, the federal agencies, our state partners, and all the other players involved.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Yes, over here.
QUESTION: Anthony (inaudible) with NHK. You talked a little bit about what you guys have done so far. I was wondering if you could speak in a little more detail about where you go from here.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right. Well, as I said, we just finished the last public meeting and public comments will be taken until midnight, October 9th. And we are, in this national interest determination, we have a 90-day period where we are expecting to hear views from the eight other agencies that are named in the executive order, and these include agencies that represent foreign policy and national security, like the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, environmental interests, EPA, Department of Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Justice – all of the different agencies that would have a perspective. So we’ll be getting their input over the next 90 days. As a matter of fact, after this meeting, I go right into an interagency meeting with those very agencies to discuss this process.
Then we’ll just be in the process of collecting information that we feel we need, reviewing it, and working toward a very thoughtful and transparent decision.
MR. HAMMER: In the back.
QUESTION: Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones magazine. Some environmental groups have raised concerns that the Secretary of State is meeting with business groups and they’re wondering if the Secretary of State herself will meet with some of the involved parties here and how much she’ll weigh in on the final decision.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, this decision was delegated to the Secretary by the President, and it’s her choice to delegate it to a couple of other people within the Department. She has not made that decision yet as to if she would delegate it or make the decision herself. And the Secretary has not really met with organizations on this issue. We have worked to make sure she didn’t so that we would be absolutely balanced and fair. And so I have been, I think, one of the highest-level political officials meeting with many of the organizations and I have taken meetings with all of the groups across the spectrum, as I have said.
So we have kept it very balanced and fair in terms of who was coming in for meetings and how they were run. Those meetings were all about listening to people’s opinions and explaining this process to them.
MR. HAMMER: We have time for a couple more questions. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s (inaudible) with Dow Jones. To kind of follow up on Gary’s question a little bit, the environmental impact statement found that there were no significant impacts from the pipeline. So can you tell us what other qualities it is about the pipeline that might convince the Department not to approve it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, what the environmental impact statement said was that there were no significant impacts – suggested there were no significant impacts, but it did list some areas where there may be impacts. It did mention issues related to cultural issues. It did mention a particular species of beetle which is a threatened species where there had to be a mitigation plan. It did touch on the issue that – regarding spills. That is still out there. You can’t really address that specifically because that has to do with the nature of the spill. So the whole language of the summary, I think, has been taken in very shorthand and not looked at completely.
But in addition to what is in the environmental impact statement, there are issues that I’m sure you heard at today’s meeting, that certainly I heard when I was out in the field, issues related to the number of jobs that could be created, what is the issue related to this source of oil and the overall oil market. So the issues of economic growth and development and the issue of energy security, I think have been sort of two of the other key issues we’ve been looking at. And of course, you can tell by those agencies who are involved, foreign policy concerns as well as national security concerns.
MR. HAMMER: Great. One last question. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Suzanne Goldenberg from The Guardian. Was Cardno ENTRIX the contracting firm involved in organizing this particular meeting as it was with the others, or has there been a decision made to sort of sever that relationship given the allegations about conflict of interest with TransCanada?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: The State Department has run all of these meetings and has directed Cardno ENTRIX whenever they have been involved. They are the contractor. We did look to them for some administrative support, so they did provide some administrative support on all of the meetings, but under our direction and our supervision, and it was all logistics regarding the meetings.
MR. HAMMER: Very well. Thank you very much. Well, one last question, since it seems to be the last one. Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Just so I can clarify, you mentioned the 90-day consultation process. Does that mean we’re not going to have a decision by the end of the year, then? This is going to be pushed off into the first quarter?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, we don’t have any particular timeline. We have been talking about being on track for the end of the year given this 90-day period and when that 90-day period ends in terms of the formal consultation we have with the agencies. But we just are trying to work very diligently to make sure we do this very thoroughly and consider all of the facts that are coming in.
MR. HAMMER: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time. Have a good weekend.