February 12, 2014


For Obama, procrastination on Keystone XL might be a virtue (Doyle McManus, February 12, 2014, LA Times)

The State Department's 11-volume environmental impact statement released last month attempted to balance the factors dispassionately. Yes, the report said, the oil from Alberta's tar sands is 17% dirtier than most of the oil extracted in the U.S., and its transport and refining could add 27 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year.

But the report also concluded that a U.S. decision to block the pipeline wouldn't significantly reduce that problem, because Canada intends to move the oil whether Keystone is built or not. Indeed, if Canada ships most of the oil by rail, the environmental consequences could be even worse, and the United States would lose out on the pipeline's economic rewards.

That's why some administration officials I've talked with -- and even, privately, some environmentalists -- are betting that Obama will eventually approve the Keystone project.

How that sits with voters, especially environmentalists, may depend on what conditions the president imposes on the project and what else he does to address climate change.

Obama can and should ask for conditions in return for his approval of the pipeline. The EPA has already proposed seeking a commitment from Canada to do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Increased pollution from the tar sands has already caused Canada to miss its own climate change targets.

Another idea offered by environmentalists is that Obama could approve the pipeline on the condition that oil companies agree to sell the refined products that result in the United States instead of exporting them. That could have the effect of reducing the amount of oil shipped via Keystone -- and also of calling the oil industry's bluff: TransCanada, the pipeline's builder, has said that its customers intend to sell their products in the United States, but environmentalists, noting that exported fuel is more profitable, are skeptical.

Most important, Obama can take other actions to offset the additional Keystone emissions. Indeed, he already intends to. By June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose a federal regulation to cut carbon emissions from the nation's 1,500 existing power plants, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gases. If the rules are tough enough, they could eventually result in the shuttering of all the 600 remaining coal-fired power plants in the country. Doing so would reduce emissions by an amount many times greater than what the Keystone pipeline would add.

Posted by at February 12, 2014 2:30 PM

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