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Vt. Law Professor Doubts Pipeline Report

South Royalton — A Vermont Law School faculty member said on Sunday that the report on the potential environmental effects of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which said the pipeline wouldn’t worsen carbon pollution to a large degree, doesn’t change the notion that burning carbon-intensive fuel will continue to damage the climate.

Patrick Parenteau, the senior counsel for the law school’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, said he was also baffled by what he called the “pretzel logic” of the U.S. Department of State, which released the report on Friday.

The pipeline would allow transport of oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, passing through several states along the way. Parenteau took issue with the report’s statement that the process of harvesting oil sands in Canada, which creates just 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil, would still be done even if the pipeline weren’t built.

“The logic of saying, ‘We don’t have to take this into account, because it will happen anyway,’ is sort of self-defeating,” he said. “That kind of thinking just keeps us trapped in the dilemma that we’re in.”

President Obama has 90 days from release of the report to make a decision on whether to go forward with the pipeline, which would run 1,700 miles and carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, through Montana and Nebraska, where it will connect with existing pipelines. Secretary of State John Kerry similarly must recommend a course of action to the president. The report also will go through a 30-day comment period.

At the beginning of 2012, Obama stalled the pipeline, saying that there wasn’t enough time to review the facts he had before the deadline he was given.

Parenteau said he thinks it’s likely that Obama will reject the pipeline because of comments he recently made on one of the largest stages his presidency offers.

“Climate change is a fact,” Obama said in this year’s State of the Union address. “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

“This is a promise to his kids,” Parenteau said. “I don’t see any way that he could make a decision to approve this.”

Melissa Scanlan, the director of the Environmental Law Center and an associate professor of law at the Vermont Law School, wrote in an email on Sunday that Obama’s pending decision has become a “proxy for the larger debate on climate change.”

She added that the three months leading up to Obama’s decision will be rife with opinions and critiques on Friday’s report, as well as its “legal and factual bases.”

Some took the report — and its mention that the pipeline wouldn’t much worsen carbon pollution — as a positive sign.

“After five years and five environmental reviews, time and time again the Department of State analysis has shown that the pipeline is safe for the environment,” Cindy Schild, the senior manager of the American Petroleum Institute’s refining and oil sands program, told the Associated Press.

If the pipeline is built, it would support more than 40,000 jobs during its two-year construction period, whether direct or indirect. It would create about 50 jobs once it is up and running.

Several drivers polled on Sunday outside the Co-Op Service Center in Hanover expressed distaste for the pipeline.

Though he drove his Toyota Tacoma to the gas station to fill it up, Hugh MacArthur said his other car is a Prius. He mostly uses the truck to get around the back roads of Thetford, where he lives.

MacArthur said he believes the process of harvesting oil sands is harmful to the environment, and the problem is made worse because the substance, if spilled while traveling the pipeline, is tough to clean up.

“There’s no good way to do it,” he said. “Let’s not do it.”

Tammie Patten, of Hanover, said the country has been stuck on oil for too long, and a pipeline transferring it down the U.S. doesn’t help matters.

“I do think that we really need to be better environmental citizens and we should be reducing our dependence on oil,” Patten said. “We ought to be looking for other alternatives.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.