Last week the State Department issued a long-awaited environmental review of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that concludes it would have a 'minimal' impact on the environment, increasing the chances that the project might be approved.

According to the L.A. Times, the State Dept. articulated that its supplemental environmental impact statement is only a draft and does not offer recommendations for action on the $7-billion project, which would bring petroleum from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Nonetheless, the review says “the analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed project suggest that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project route.”

What now?

As you know, the Keystone debate has lingered for a prolonged period. Because Keystone XL crosses a U.S. border, it needs a permit from the State Department. The Times says that a decision on the permit was originally expected in late 2011 but was delayed until after the 2012 presidential election, in part because of widely held concerns that the original environmental impact statement did not adequately assess the pipeline’s impact on the greenhouse gas emissions that feed climate change or on a huge aquifer in its path in Nebraska.

Of course, more jaded observers maintain that the president was afraid to approve the pipeline prior to the election because such a move could alienate any number of potential voters for whom the 'green' ideology matters more than virtually any other concern.

As expected, environmentalists abhor the latest announcement while the oil industry welcomed it.

“The environmental impact statement released today is long overdue, and continues to build a strong case supporting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. “The Keystone XL project has become one of the most closely examined infrastructure projects in our nation’s history — and it continues to pass with flying colors.”

Will we see the president approve in 2013 what he rejected in 2012?

It's not a bet I'd be comfortable making. The potential to improve infrastructure; add jobs and increase the nation's reliance on fuel from North America versus Middle East oil compels the logic of Keystone's approval, but at the same time, let's not pretend this is a panacea.

American consumers concerned about crude oil flowing into the U.S. might be better assured that it could ease domestic supply and perhaps soften price fluctuations if some stipulations were enacted that limit exports when the U.S. average gasoline price exceeds a certain threshhold...

Naive, yes, but it's a nice wish.