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Joe Oliver, Canada's natural-resource minister, said he was "encouraged" by State Dept.'s EIS.

The State Dept. has issued a final environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that determines the project probably would not have a major effect on carbon emissions during its construction period.

The EIS, which the State Dept. released on Jan. 31, is not the final up-or-down ruling on whether the project can be constructed. Still to come is an Obama administration decision on whether building the pipeline is in the national interest and merits a presidential permit.

The pipeline has been, for many months, the center of a fierce battle between business and union interests that want to see the pipeline built and environmental advocates that want to block it.

The $3.3-billion northern section of the project would run from the Canadian tar sands in Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb., where it would link with an existing pipeline.

Construction of the 36-in.-dia pipeline would take one to two years and ultimately carry as much as 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil.

The evaluation next will be in the hands of Secretary of State John Kerry, but first the public will have 30 days to comment on the new report and other federal agencies will have 90 days to weigh in.

Project backers viewed the report as a clear step forward for the pipeline project. Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO building-trade unions, said in a statement, "The Keystone XL pipeline has now been awaiting regulatory approval for more than five years. There are no more excuses for delaying this project."

But in a Jan. 31 briefing for reporters, Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, was much more measured in her comments about the report. She declined to characterize the report as determining the project would have a minimal environmental impact. She said, "I think you have to look at this document as part of a bigger picture [in which], having all this information and recognizing all the different scenarios, you then have to weigh [those factors] against the other factors related to energy security and foreign policy and economic considerations."

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which opposes the pipeline, contends that picture is less clear-cut than the project's proponents suggest. In a statement, he said the EIS sets the stage for the president to reject the project.

"The report concludes that Keystone XL will create the equivalent climate pollution of the exhaust of nearly 6 million cars each year, which the president cannot fail to recognize as significant and not in the nation's best interest," he says.