(CNSNews.com) - In an unprecedented move on Thursday, the U.S. State Department posted on a government website the first 100,000 comments -- out of 1.2 million received -- on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Eventually, it plans to post every one of the comments it has received on the draft of its latest environmental impact statement.
"This marks the first time the Department has made all individual comments on a Presidential Permit application available to the public," the State Department said. "The Department decided to post these comments as part of its continued effort to maximize transparency in the federal Presidential Permit review process."
"Where appropriate," the State Department said, the draft "will be revised in response to public comments," and the revised document will be published as the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).
The comments can be viewed at the regulations.gov website.
The first few, from environmental groups, are strongly negative.
Tar Sands Action complains that the project will kill forests and contaminate the land, water and atmosphere. "But the one issue that hurts us today, and our children tomorrow, is creating a new supergreenhouse gasoline for all of us to burn in our cars and trucks when we should be going the exact opposite direction."
The National Audubon Society says the State Department's environmental review "fails to critically assess this dirty energy project in a manner that accounts for its immense climate and environmental impacts."
And the Natural Resources Defense Council urges rejection of a presidential permit: "In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other deadly weather events, our government should not be whitewashing the very real and disastrous effects of climatewrecking projects like the Keystone XL."
TransCanada says its pipeline will be the safest, most advanced pipeline operation in North America: "It will not only bring essential infrastructure to North American oil producers, but it will also provide jobs, long-term energy independence and an economic boost to Americans."
Congressional Republicans and business groups are strong supporters of the job-creating project. In fact, the Republican-controlled House on Thursday passed a bill to speed approval of the pipeline by making presidential approval unnecessary. The Democrat-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the bill.
President Obama -- whose liberal constituency includes environmental activists -- has waffled on the pipeline for years.
Right now, the State Department is in the process of preparing yet another environmental impact statement on the proposed pipeline, which -- if completed -- would run 1,179 miles, carrying crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Neb. From there, the pipeline extends to midwestern and Gulf Coast markets.
Because the pipeline crosses an international border, it falls to the U.S. State Department to decide whether the project is in the national interest. It's then up to the president to say yes or no.
In August 2011, the State Department issued a supposedly "final" environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL, saying the pipeline extension would not have a significant impact on the environment.
But following an outcry from environmental activists, the State Department three months later decided to seek additional information on alternative routes through the Nebraska Sand Hills.
Then in January 2012, President Obama denied Keystone's application for a permit, blaming Republicans for imposing a "rushed and arbitrary deadline" for him to make a decision.
TransCanada filed a new application for a permit in May of last year, starting the State Department's review process all over again.
Which brings us to the present day: Now, almost five years after Keystone applied for a permit in 2008, the State Department has produced another "supplementary" draft environmental impact statement, which finds no significant adverse impact.
The 45-day comment period ended in April.
"The Department of State has received an unprecedented number of comments on the Keystone XL Draft SEIS (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement) from members of the public, federal and state agencies and representatives, Native American tribes, non-governmental organizations, and other parties," it said.
The State Department plans to post subsequent sets of comments of a similar size weekly, in approximate chronological order, according to the date they were received.
All comments will be posted prior to completion of the Final SEIS.
Secretary of State John Kerry has promised a "fair and transparent" review of the proposal and said he hopes to make a decision in the "near term." According to the Associated Press, most observers do not expect a decision until summer at the earliest.