As more Democrats join in support of Keystone XL, opponents shift their message again

New voices in support of Keystone XL are appearing in droves.  Just today, Georgia Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Michelle Nunn told volunteers that President Obama should approve Keystone XL.  As she said,

“I have a lot of friends who have different perspectives on Keystone,” Nunn said. “We need to continue to focus on green energy and finding sustainable sources of energy, but I do believe we should move forward with Keystone.

I ultimately believe that environmental concerns have been addressed through a deliberative process, and that the issue of economic growth, economic development and the imperative to focus on North American energy independence is compelling.

We need to be aware of where we’re getting our energy. Getting it from Canada is a good alternative to getting it from a variety of other places.”

Nunn’s comments follow a segment aired last weekend on Meet the Press, in which residents of Steele City, Nebraska said they welcome the pipeline and all the economic benefits it would bring.  As one restaurant owner put it, “It boosts the economy for everyone around here.”  Washington Post Columnist Kathleen Parker said later during the roundtable discussion,

“Clearly people want the economy to grow; they want jobs to come through.  I think if I were President Obama I would adopt Steel City as the new American city.  Let’s get that pipeline going; let’s make sure we have everything in place to protect the environment as much as we possibly can and watch that little city blossom like a desert flower. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) also weighed in saying:

“As you know the State Department has conducted study after study after study including one after the president claimed that if approving the Keystone XL pipeline would exacerbate carbon pollution he would be against it.  The most recent report from the president’s own State Department suggests that this would not exacerbate the carbon footprint.”

Meanwhile, Keystone XL opponents – who have been telling us for years that Keystone XL would be “game over” for the planet – are now walking back their outlandish statements saying instead that the pipeline is just “a step in the wrong direction.”  This shift in rhetoric came in the form of a letter signed by “100 scientists” urging President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the pipeline.  From the letter:

“As you both have made clear, climate change is a very serious problem. We must address climate change by decarbonizing our energy supply. A critical first step is to stop making climate change worse by tapping into disproportionately carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands bitumen. The Keystone XL pipeline will drive expansion of the energy-intensive strip-mining and drilling of tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, increasing global carbon emissions. Keystone XL is a step in the wrong direction.”

Why such a change in tone?  Are opponents finally admitting defeat on the very foundation of their entire argument?  Having James Hansen sign on to the letter might have had something to do with it.  Just as a refresher: opponents have long quoted James Hansen to argue that Keystone XL would be “game over” for the planet.  But just last month, in testimony before Congress, Hansen said that his “comment continues to be misinterpreted” and he made it very clear that he wasn’t speaking of the pipeline in isolation.

Also among the signers are climate scientists David Keith of Harvard University and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who have both called out Keystone XL opponents for overstating the issue.  As Keith said, “The extreme statements — that this is ‘game over’ for the planet — are clearly not intellectually true…”  And as Caldeira put it, “I don’t believe that whether the pipeline is built or not will have any detectable climate effect.”

Those signing the letter will say they are focused on the “symbolic argument.” The “step in the wrong direction” is about development of the oil sands, not about the pipeline project itself. However, their symbolic argument has been pretty thoroughly knocked down too.   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.”

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.”

We certainly appreciate opponents admitting they were wrong. Now can we expect this clarification be reflected in their signs at the next protest?

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