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Keystone XL foes say 1M comments show power of opposition

WASHINGTON -- Keystone XL critics say they amassed more than 1 million comments against the pipeline to carry oil from Canada, showing what they called grassroots opposition to the $5.3 billion project across six states.

Keystone will "contribute dramatically" to global warming and pose an "unacceptable risk to water," according to a letter posted on the website of environmental group that visitors can electronically sign and submit to the State Department, which is reviewing the comments.

The department collected comments through yesterday on its draft environmental analysis that is seen favoring project supporters. Keystone foes said the level of opposition should give President Barack Obama cover to reject TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline, which is backed by oil companies and labor groups as a source of jobs and greater U.S. energy security.

"The president said that he needed a movement to compel him to act," Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for, said in an email. "People are more fired up about this issue than any other enviro issue in a generation."

The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups also encouraged their members to submit comments opposing Keystone. The State Department plans to post all comments.

Social media tools make it easier to rally on a particular issue, and therefore the effect of mass mailings is diminished, said Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. High-volume communications receive more attention from legislators who must face re-election than from regulators, he said.

"That said, it still gives some measure of sentiment outside the Beltway and can at least cause legislators to think twice before casting a vote," Zelizer said in an email.

While the State Department's March draft environmental impact statement makes no recommendation about building Keystone, it found that the pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast presented no significant environmental risks.

Its effect on climate change, for example, would be minimal because Alberta's oil sands would be developed anyway, a conclusion reached in the draft analysis that's disputed by groups like Tar sands mining and processing releases more greenhouse gases than drilling and refining conventional oils.

Environmentalists dispute the State Department assessment on the climate-change impact. Their position appeared to receive a boost in comments the Environmental Protection Agency submitted Monday to the draft analysis.

The State Department needs to conduct a more complete economic analysis to show that railroads and other transport options existed to carry Alberta oil sands to refineries if Keystone was rejected, the EPA said. It also said the State Department's final environmental analysis should "more clearly acknowledge" that cleaning up oil sands crude is more difficult than conventional oil.

Polls by an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a research group based in Washington, found that 74 percent of Americans support approving the project, compared with 68 percent of Canadians in a separate survey. Most Americans said they care more about North American energy independence than reducing greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.