Those of us who hope he goes against our expectations and rejects the pipeline know full well that if the project is evaluated in isolation—just the pipeline alone—a case can be made that it won't exacerbate climate change. To be sure, it's a weak case, a case with all kinds of on-the-other-hands and some flim-flammery, but it's one that might convince many people who would otherwise oppose it.
The pipeline decision should not, however, be made solely on the impact of building that conduit from Alberta to Texas. Without it or an equivalent alternative, the dirty tar sands will not be developed as completely and as quickly as they otherwise would be.
There are "local" reasons for not going ahead as well, as the recent blowout at Cold Lake, Alberta, showed. And the possibility of cancer clusters. And the destruction of boreal forest and consumption and contamination of water in Canada and along the pipeline's route through the American heartland. But the key reason for opposition is carbon load and the message it would send about U.S. seriousness in dealing with climate change.
Rejecting the pipeline would be both a symbolic and an actual move that says the United States is not kidding about ending its dependency on fossil fuel. Approving it would not be merely a green-light for further development of the dirty tar sands in Canada. It would also encourage those who seek to develop tar sands in the United States and what is arguably an even dirtier source of petroleum—the oil shale kerogen in the Green River formation of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The latter would be a huge disaster, one that so far has been avoided because of technological inadequacies and, in the 1980s, a plunge in oil prices that made extracting the stuff uneconomic.
It's been argued by many that there is absolutely no doubt that President Obama will approve the northern leg of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Until recently, I've been about 90 percent in that camp myself.
Some proponents of this view say that, for one thing, Obama intentionally gave TransCanada a second chance—a wink and a nudge—when he rejected the pipeline route 18 months ago by saying the company was free to reapply without prejudgment. Some say the delay, even though it provided his Republican foes with ammunition against him, was merely a way for the president to shore up his shaky left—or green—flank for the 2012 election.
Then there is the fact that he went out of his way to show up and say good things about the southern leg of Keystone XL from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the refineries of the Texas Gulf Coast when he enthusiastically joined the ceremony announcing the go-ahead for the project in February 2012.
That announcement happened just five weeks after he got extensive kudos from anti-Keystone advocates with the credibility of Bill McKibben and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club for giving a temporary no to the northern route.
Of the southern route's approval, Brune said:
“TransCanada is hell bent on bringing tar sands, the world’s dirtiest oil, through America to reach foreign markets. They can’t wait for a fair, scientific environmental review they know their pipeline would fail. So we see dirty political tricks, dirty PR tricks, and, now, this dirty trick to build the pipeline piecemeal.”
It is clear that Obama's remarks to the Times
do not mean that all the unhappy predictions he will approve the pipeline are wrong. There is plenty of wiggle room in what he said. What does he mean by "significantly contribute to carbon"? What does he think adequate mitigation would be?
But his comments do show he's been listening to what opponents have to say and he agrees with some of our criticisms. Yet, has he truly heard us? Does he hear that what we are really saying isn't just that Keystone XL must be rejected, but that it is merely the first of a string of crucial rejections of new fossil fuel projects? Crucial if we are to have any hope of reducing the impact of global warming.
••• •• •••
ai002h has a diary discussion up here.