Keystone XL Passes President Obama’s Climate Test

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In a landmark climate speech in 2013, President Obama said that the approval of Keystone XL hinges on a finding that the pipeline will not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. As he put it,

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.”

Over a year later, it’s abundantly clear the Keystone XL passes President Obama’s climate test:

The United States State Department: On January 31st, 2014, the State Department released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). As with the previous four statements, the State Department found, once again, that Keystone XL would have a negligible impact on the environment.

IHS CERA: IHS CERA released a report finding that Keystone XL will have “no material impact” on greenhouse gas emissions. The report states that heavy crude oil will be refined in the U.S. Gulf Coast refineries regardless – but without Keystone XL, much of that crude will be imported from Venezuela instead of Canada. As the report states, Venezuela will be “the number one beneficiary of a negative decision” on Keystone XL.  In a subsequent report, IHS CERA found that the United States has increased imports of Canadian oil sands by 75 percent from 2005 to 2012. Yet, despite the influx of Canadian oil sands, “The GHG emissions rate for the average crude oil consumed in the United States was unchanged between 2005 and 2012.”

Climate Scientists: David Keith, a Canadian climate scientist at Harvard 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.”

Energy Experts: International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist Fatih Birol said that “it would be definitely wrong to highlight [oil sands] as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.” 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.

Obama administration officials:  Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and former Obama U.S. Geological Survey chief Marcia McNutt have endorsed Keystone XL.  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy exposed Keystone XL opponents’ claims as false when she said that Keystone XL won’t affect EPA’s work on climate and “If there’s oil there, someone will find it and use it.”  And, as the Washington Post reported “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.”

Editorial boards and columnist from across the country:

Washington Post: “Environmentalists are fighting the wrong battles…the activists ought to pick more important fights. Until they do, the president should ignore their pressure.” (3/4/2013)

Nature: “[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.” (1/29/2013)

Bloomberg Business Week: “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.” (2/28/2013)

New York Times: “But when it comes to the pipeline’s true impact on global warming, energy and climate change experts — including former Obama administration officials — say Keystone’s political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance…“[T]he carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.” (4/21/2014)

Washington Post: “The administration’s latest decision is not responsible; it is embarrassing. The United States continues to insult its Canadian allies by holding up what should have been a routine permitting decision amid a funhouse-mirror environmental debate that got way out of hand. The president should end this national psychodrama now, bow to reason, approve the pipeline and go do something more productive for the climate.” (4/23/2014)

New York Times Op-ed Contributor Joe Nocera: “In fact, [Keystone XL] should be a no-brainer for the president, for all the reasons I stated earlier, and one more: the strategy of activists like McKibben, Brune and Hansen, who have made the Keystone pipeline their line in the sand, is utterly boneheaded.” (2/18/2013)

Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson: “The test of President Obama’s seriousness about addressing climate change is not his pending decision on the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline […] the oil is likely to be extracted eventually, regardless of the pipeline decision.” (2/25/2013)

Washington Post: “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 […] Fighting for good climate policy may be more difficult than waging a symbolic war against a lone pipeline. But the battle for policies that might actually work is the one to which environmentalists must devote their time, enthusiasm and money.” (2/5/2014)

Dallas Daily News: “President Barack Obama should have applauded the State Department’s recent finding that the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast would not produce a significant net increase in carbon emissions, a major cause of global climate change. Instead, he continues to sit on his hands. […]The president should get off the fence, pull out his signing pen and approve this project.” (2/7/2014)