On Aug. 26, the U.S. State Dept. issued the final environmental impact statement on TransCanada’s 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, setting the final stage for the hotly contested battle over the line that would move Canadian tar-sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico for refining.

The final EIS repeats the findings of previous environmental assessments—the construction and operation of the $7-billion pipeline would have “limited adverse environmental impacts.” During the 90-day comment period on the final EIS, the department will hold 13 public meetings. The administration had promised to decide by the end of the year on whether to issue a presidential permit for the line, a necessary step for the cross-border project.

If the presidential permit is issued and construction begins in 2012 as TransCanada plans, the line would be complete in 2013. TransCanada has signed a project labor agreement with the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada.

"Support for Keystone XL continues to grow because the public, opinion leaders and elected officials can see the clear benefits that this pipeline will deliver to Americans," said Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada in a statement. "The fundamental issue is energy security.”

The final EIS calls for incorporating 57 project-specific construction, operation and monitoring requirements that were developed by the State Dept. and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The final EIS says the pipeline would be laid in streams using a trenching method, while horizontal drilling would be used to cross large rivers. Houston-based environmental consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX was awarded a competitive contract to help prepare the EIS.

Opposition to the pipeline has grown steadily since TransCanada applied for the presidential permit in 2008. More than 265,000 people wrote in opposition to the line after a draft of the EIS was released. Eighty environmental groups have urged President Obama to deny the permit.

“When filled to capacity, Keystone XL would import up to 900,000 barrels per day of the world’s dirtiest form of oil and open a new economic drain to send more of our money to Canada. The pipeline would drive further destruction of Canada’s boreal forest, bring the threat of dangerous oil spills through America’s heartland, exacerbate air-quality problems in communities surrounding the refineries that the pipeline would service, and significantly increase the carbon intensity of U.S. transportation fuel, which would undercut the emissions reductions achieved by increasing U.S. automobile efficiency,” the groups said in a joint letter in February.

Groups of environmentalists have been holding a two-week protest in front of the White House. More than 100 activists have been arrested.

On Aug. 19, the Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union issued a joint statement, urging the State Dept. not to approve construction of the pipeline.

“We need jobs, but not ones based on increasing our reliance on Tar Sands oil. There is no shortage of water and sewage pipelines that need to be fixed or replaced, bridges and tunnels that are in need of emergency repair, transportation infrastructure that needs to be renewed and developed,” the unions wrote.