John Kerry to lead review of Keystone XL pipeline

John Kerry, confirmed by the US Senate as the next secretary of State, will lead the State Department's review of the Keystone XL pipeline. Environmentalists hope John Kerry will block the project but supporters say that approving the Keystone XL pipeline is in the nation's best interest.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
John Kerry sits before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as he seeks confirmation as US secretary of State, on Capitol Hill in Washington last week. As secretary of State, Mr. Kerry will lead the State Department's review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

When John Kerry begins his tenure as secretary of State Friday, the former senator will soon address one of energy's most perplexing and divisive issues: the Keystone XL pipeline.

"It will not be long before that comes across my desk," Mr. Kerry said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week. "And at that time, I'll make the appropriate judgments about it." 

What exactly those "appropriate judgments" will be is the million dollar question. 

Environmental groups hope Kerry's judgements will ultimately be in their favor. The self-described "passionate advocate" for confronting climate change earned a reputation for backing environmentally friendly bills during his tenure in the Senate. Kerry consistently received high marks on the League of Conservation Voters' national environmental scorecard, earning a perfect 100 percent in 2011. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Kerry called global climate change a "life-threatening" issue and endorsed clean energy as an important job creator. 

"We are excited that he will bring his strong credentials on climate to the critical decisions facing our planet," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement Tuesday, "including increasing access to affordable clean energy options and stopping the expansion of dirty tar sands and coal worldwide."

The League of Conservation Voters' president, Gene Karpinski, singled out the Keystone XL project, expressing hope that Secretary Kerry would reject the pipeline, which would transport oil products from Canadian tar sands to US refineries. Because it crosses an international border, the pipeline requires a review from the State Department and a presidential permit.

As chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the State Department, Kerry told The Hill in 2011, “There's a lot at stake here and I’ll do my best to leave no question unanswered including every possible economic and environmental consideration before a final decision is made.”

The prospect of a climate hawk heading the State Department doesn't seem to deter Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project. 

"I think anybody in that position will look at those facts objectively and come to the conclusion that the national interest of the United States is best served by the approval of the Keystone pipeline, and stringent oversight, obviously, on pipeline safety, which they do in the United States today," Girling told Reuters in a December 2012 interview.

Before any judgment is made on the matter, Kerry has said he will divest from assets that could be conflicts of interest. Those investments include Calgary-based Suncor and Cenovus Energy, two energy companies that might benefit from Keystone's approval.

A State Department spokeswoman told The New York Times last week that a decision on the project would not be announced before April.

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