Don’t Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Protest

It’s gut-check time for Keystone XL opponents. This week, the State Department Office of Inspector General released a report that absolutely destroys their conflict of interest charge. As Politico rightly noted, the IG’s report “marks yet another defeat for the pipeline’s opponents.” Greenwire called it “a notable blow.”

To add insult to injury, over the past few months, even more Democrats and liberals – from former Obama administration officials, to MSNBC talk show hosts, to top leaders in the labor movement – have come out in strong support of Keystone XL.

With their case in shambles, what’s their next move?  Some die-hard opponents aren’t giving up on their usual stunts.  This weekend, 350.org is organizing an event for students to protest Keystone XL at the White House – and as their press release dramatically puts it, they are “expected to risk arrest in an act of civil disobedience.”  Since they don’t have the facts on their side, getting arrested is about all they have left.

Opponents Climate Case Has Collapsed

Since the beginning, Keystone XL opponents have insisted on making the debate over Keystone XL about climate change, arguing that the pipeline was “game over” for the planet. President Obama heeded their call, announcing last year that his decision to approve Keystone XL would be based on a finding that it would not “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

For more than five years, President Obama’s State Department has released report after report showing that Keystone XL meets his climate test.  Numerous climate and energy experts have agreed. David Keith, a Harvard climate scientist said, “The extreme statements — that this is ‘game over’ for the planet — are clearly not intellectually true.”  David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California explained, “As a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time. But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite.”  International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol said that “it would be definitely wrong to highlight [oil sands] as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.”  And just within the last few weeks, energy and climate expert Michael Levi, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute, energy expert Dan Yergin, and Stanford University emeritus professor Burton Richter have all given devastating critiques of opponents’ climate claims.

News outlets have also weighed in.  Regarding opponents’ argument that Keystone XL would be “game over” for the planet, New York Mag’s Jonathan Chait perhaps provides the best explanation: it “was based on a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation that turned out to be wrong in several respects.”  He went on to say that Keystone XL opponents’ crusade is “a huge environmentalist mistake” and “a bizarre misallocation of political attention.”

Realizing that their climate claims were failing to convince, opponents changed their message, saying Keystone XL was actually a “symbol” for the cause or a way to “draw the line” on climate change. But they couldn’t get away with that either.  As the Washington Post editorial board wrote, “Environmentalists have drawn a line in the sand on the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s the wrong line in the wrong sand, far away from any realistic assessment of the merits — as yet another government analysis has confirmed. It’s past time for President Obama to set aside politics and resolve this bizarre distraction of an issue.”

A Nature editorial, previously said, “[R]egarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it. As Nature has suggested before, the pipeline is not going to determine whether the Canadian tar sands are developed or not.” Bloomberg Business Week also concluded that, “The fact that McKibben and his organization have made the proposed pipeline the bête noire of the entire environmental movement—and the litmus test by which they vow to judge President Obama’s integrity on the environment—seems arbitrary.” Finally, as New York Mag’s Jonathan Chait put it, “So, what public policy reason is there to block the pipeline? There really isn’t one. Indeed, the environmentalists’ obsession with Keystone began as a gigantic mistake.”

Support for Keystone XL Continues to Build

When former Obama national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon said that he “probably would” advise approval of the Keystone XL pipeline due to the energy security benefits it would bring, the Washington Post reported that Donilon’s support was “not surprising” because “many government officials privately back the project on the grounds that it would expand the oil supply the U.S. would receive from a trusted ally, as well as bolster our relationship with Canada more broadly.”

The Washington Post was right. Since then, several notable officials have come out in support of Keystone XL.  They include: former Obama Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former Obama USGS chief Marcia McNutt, former Clinton administration council Jan H. Kalicki, and former Obama administration international energy expert David L. Goldwyn. Of course, General Jim Jones, former Obama national security advisor, has long been a supporter of Keystone XL.

Of note, even EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy critiqued opponents’ climate argument.  As she told the Boston Globe recently, “If there’s oil there, someone will find it and use it.” Before that, Administrator McCarthy said that EPA’s work on climate will not be affected by Keystone XL.  As she said, “No one project is going to take that away from us.”

Opponents Will Ignore Facts, Carry on with Protests

And yet, even without the facts, or indeed the support of many in their own party, opponents continue with their same stunts.  Meanwhile business and labor groups, Democrats and Republicans, and an overwhelming majority of the American people know that Keystone XL will have a negligible impact on the environment and they want the jobs, economic growth and energy security that would come with the pipeline.  Will President Obama listen to them or to a handful of protesters who hope to get arrested because that’s all they have left?

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