President Obama laid out his personal standard for approving the presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline in his global warming speech at Georgetown University on June 25, 2013. If the project increases global warming, he’ll veto it. Based on that standard, he should now approve the project – immediately.
“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” Obama said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” that is, greenhouse gas emissions. “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,” he said.
The State Department, in the most exhaustive environmental review process ever conducted, not only concluded that approving the pipeline would not “exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” but would actually ameliorate it.
That’s because the latest report proves incontrovertibly that the Alberta oil sands are going to be developed. And most of the crude will make it to U.S. refineries. The principal question at stake, the State Department concluded, is whether the transportation will be by rail or by pipe.
The State Department issued three different press releases in the spring of 2011 — in March, April, and June — that included this sentence: “The U.S. Department of State expects to make a decision on whether to grant or deny the permit before the end of 2011.”
That repeated promise is probably why rail shipments from the Alberta oil sands increased at a relatively modest rate from near zero in January 2011 to about 20,000 barrels per day in January 2012. But when the Obama administration made clear that no decision on the pipeline was coming any time soon, the market adapted around the dysfunctional, seemingly never-ending permitting process. Rail shipments skyrocketed nine-fold from to over 180,000 barrels per day in November 2013.
In its latest review, the State Department outlined the greenhouse gas impact of approving the pipeline against the backdrop of this reality. They analyzed three different potential “no action” scenarios and found they would all have significantly higher emissions than approving the pipeline. The all-rail scenario would have 41.8 percent higher emissions; a scenario in which rail is used for part of the route to reach existing pipelines would have 39.7 percent higher emissions, and a scenario in which rail is used to ship crude to reach tankers would increase emissions 27.8 percent.
Imagine for a moment the State Department analysis had come back and said the opposite – that approving the pipeline would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 28 to 42 percent. Certainly, under Obama’s unambiguous Georgetown standard, he would veto it. So with the results so favorable to the pipeline, it should be equally simple and obvious for him to approve it.
Especially because lives are at stake. The State Department looked at the safety implications of rejecting the pipeline and found “potentially an additional 49 injuries and six fatalities for the No Action rail scenarios compared to one additional injury and no fatalities for the proposed Project on a yearly basis.”
There has never been a more shovel-ready project in history than the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been exhaustively engineered, studied, reviewed, and re-reviewed. At stake are over 42,000 construction jobs, a more secure supply of North American oil, billions in private investment, and the global efficiency benefits of connecting a major crude source to the world’s most efficient refining center by pipe.
It’s a win-win for the economy and the environment.
President Obama should strike a blow against global warming by approving the pipeline.