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WASHINGTON Environmentalists on Thursday asserted that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline fails President Barack Obama's test for approval, because it would exacerbate global warming.

The project is the "linchpin" to unlocking the development of Canada's oil sands using particularly energy intensive techniques, according to a report issues by the Sierra Club, Environment America and other groups.

"The Keystone XL presidential permit decision is so important precisely because it has critical implications for the rate at which tar sands are extracted," the report said.

The report builds its case partly on previous assessments of industry representatives and financial analysts who cast TransCanada Corp.'s proposed pipeline as essential for sustaining oil sands development. Other proposed pipelines that would take diluted bitumen from Alberta to Canada's coasts for offshore transport face significant resistance in the country.

The report takes direct aim at a draft environmental study the State Department released in March that concludes the pipeline would add only about 0.83 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year.

Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, stressed that the report contradicts the State Department's conclusions that "there would be no significant impact on carbon emissions from Keystone XL."

"This is really an effort to distract the American people from their number one priority and that is jobs," Wohlschlegel said. "The pipeline stands to create hundreds of thousands of new American jobs, and it is time for the president to lead on the one thing Americans care about the most."

The State Department currently is reviewing about 1.2 million public comments filed in response to that study and could make a final decision on whether the proposed border-crossing pipeline is in the "national interest" by early next year.

In a June 25 speech, Obama vowed that his administration will only approve the multibillion-dollar pipeline "if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

Obama also stressed that "the net effects of the pipeline's impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."

The project is "a test of the president's commitment" to combating climate change and "a choice about our climate future," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

"We have begun to reduce carbon pollution in this country," Brune said. "The tar sands pipeline if it's constructed would be a disaster for the climate."

Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, said it is ludicrous to think "a giant pipeline to the dirtiest oil on earth wouldn't significantly increase carbon emissions."

The bitumen in Canada's oil sands generally is harvested using strip mining techniques and other steam-based methods that have a smaller physical footprint but require more energy than other conventional oil production. The result, critics say, is a product that generates more carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases over its entire lifetime (from production to combustion) than alternatives.

But the oil industry counters that the product is already moving to Gulf Coast refineries set up to process heavy crudes via trains and other pipelines. There, it is displacing similar crudes from Venezuela and Mexico.

Although TransCanada Corp. needs a presidential permit to build the northern leg of Keystone XL, a 485-mile-long southern leg of the pipeline is almost completed. Texans who live along the pipeline's route and in the shadow of refineries that would process the crude on Thursday called for a congressional hearing on the effects Keystone XL would have on the Lone Star state.

In particular, they want Rep. Lamar Smith, the San Antonio Republican who heads the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, to hold a hearing on the possible climate change effects of the pipeline, both nationwide and in Texas.

Tom Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, said the study released Thursday challenges Smith's assertions that there is no real increase in greenhouse gases associated with the pipeline.

"We are challenging Chairman Smith to come home to Texas and hold hearings in Texas about the impact in Texas that climate change is already having," Smith said.

A spokesman for Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


(Email: Jdlouhy(at)hearstdc.com)