WASHINGTON – Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an interview Thursday his endorsement of construction of the Keystone oil-sands pipeline comes after learning new information, including that the pipeline would not greatly increase carbon emissions.
Speaking at an energy conference in Texas earlier this week, Salazar said he supported the project.
He said he believed construction could “be done in a way that creates a win-win for energy and the environment.”
This is the first time Salazar, now a lawyer in the private sector, has endorsed the pipeline, which would carry crude from tar sands in Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast.
In 2012, Salazar hewed close to President Barack Obama’s position on the issue.
“My concerns about the Keystone pipeline are in line with the Obama administration’s position on the issue. I feel that the president acted responsibly in rejecting the initial proposal on the grounds of environmental issues,” he said, according to media reports. “Until the guidelines for this project are significantly altered, the pipeline should not be constructed because of the potential risks it poses to the well being of U.S. citizens.”
Salazar was adamant Thursday that, as Interior Secretary, he never took sides in the debate.
“I had never taken a position for or against the pipeline,” he said. “It’s a process that the State Department has run so it wasn’t in the Department of Interior.”
The State Department has conducted a series of reviews on the prospect of the pipeline, which would cross three states and run 875 miles. The original plan would have traversed 1,384 miles through five states and was initially opposed by the Nebraska governor, a Republican. That governor now supports the project.
A group of senators, including five Democrats, also threw support behind the project this week.
Asked whether Salazar thought the momentum was shifting to support the project, even among Democrats, he called the pipeline still “hotly contested.
“I don’t know that the momentum has shifted,” he said. “There are still many people who have great concerns.”
Among them is Environment Colorado. Anneli Berube, who works with the organization, called Salazar’s position disappointing Thursday.
Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are split on the pipeline’s construction. Udall voted against both the Republican and Democratic Keystone budget amendments last year. Bennet supported the proposal.
Udall’s spokesman said Thursday his boss stands by his earlier votes but is studying the new State Department report.
GOP energy lobbyist Michael McKenna on Thursday called Salazar’s “conversion on the issue interesting.
“A little late, but better than never,” McKenna said, in an e-mail. “It is typical Salazar – trying to be on both sides of the issue in hopes that no one will be able to clearly identify what his position was when it really mattered. ... The defections on the issue have to be making it difficult for the administration to keep delaying a decision.”