Emphasizing Need to Combat Climate Change, Clinton Opposes Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton added her voice  to the opposition to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline noting that it is not in the interests of fighting climate change. This doesn’t come as a surprise given the American public’s focus on climate action. Tar sands crude is about as dirty as it gets when it comes to climate change. Keystone XL would take us in the wrong direction. We need to power our future with clean energy, not lock future generations into the dirty fuels of the past. The stakes for the country demand an approach just as assertive on climate change from any candidate, from either party, who aspires to the highest office in the land.

It is worth reminding ourselves just why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline does not make climate sense. This project would pipe tar sands crude from under the Canadian boreal forests and wetlands to the Gulf Coast where most of it would be exported as diesel to overseas markets. That means putting American farmlands and waters at risk so that the oil industry can access overseas markets for the currently mostly land-locked tar sands.

Tar sands is not your grandfather’s oil. It is strip-mined and melted from deep under Canada’s boreal forest in a process that guzzles energy and water, generating high levels of climate-destroying pollution and devastating miles of wilderness. Dirty fuels such as tar sands have no place in a future of climate action and clean energy.

Keystone XL would drive expansion of tar sands mining and drilling by providing access to new markets overseas. Instead, without Keystone XL, we have seen tar sands projects being postponed and cancelled citing lack of adequate infrastructure. It is no coincidence that the public opposition to Keystone XL has been echoed in opposition to other proposed coastal access pipelines, none of which seem likely to go through.

Because so much of the capital investment in tar sands extraction is up front, once the mines and other facilities are built, they tend to keep producing even as oil prices have sunk to their current low levels. That is another reason why building infrastructure that facilitates expansion of tar sands ends up locking us in to years of dirty fuels production.

Keystone XL fails President Obama’s climate test. Analysis by both the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency show that Keystone XL would significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

It is no accident that Clinton has moved from her “inclined to support” comment while Secretary of State to clear opposition of Keystone XL. As American voices for climate action and clean energy have strengthened, so has opposition to senseless dirty energy projects likes tar sands pipelines.

In fact, scientists across North America have called for a moratorium on tar sands expansion and related infrastructure because of its impact on climate change and the environment. These scientists note that addressing climate change will require leaving 75 percent of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground, starting with those that produce the most carbon pollution, like tar sands oil. The choices that Canada and the United States make about tar sands in the coming months and years will reverberate globally, as other nations face the inconsistency of trying to have both climate action and expansion of dirty fuels. Yet Canada has continued on its path of being a climate laggard, recently even labelled as the worst in the industrialized world on climate action by a United Nations panel.

The decision to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all rests with the Administration. President Obama has made it clear that Keystone XL would be all risk and no reward for the American people. Now it’s time for him to reject the tar sands pipeline for good.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is a Senior Advisor to the NRDC Action Fund.

First 50 Days: Nothing but the Big Polluter Agenda

Around the time the new Congress marked its first 50 days, my children’s classes were celebrating the 100th day of school. Students did a hundred math problems, read books for a hundred minutes, and brought in bags of a hundred objects like dried beans and pasta.

If Republicans in Congress marked their milestone in a similar way, they would probably write up 50 ways to gut environmental safeguards or haul in 50 miniature smokestacks.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be at the top of the class.

Fifty days into the new Congress, McConnell has established himself as a champion of polluting industries. McConnell devoted much of this session to supporting the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil and trying to block the EPA from reducing climate change emissions. These efforts get a failing grade from public health experts because they would increase pollution linked to asthma attacks, respiratory illness and cancer.

Why has the GOP leadership used the first 50 days to push pollution? Perhaps it has something to do with their super-wealthy donors. Oil, gas, and coal companies spent more than $721 million to support their candidates and interests in Congress over the past two years. McConnell raked in $608,000 from the fossil fuel industry for his 2014 campaign.

Yet while most Republican lawmakers stump for more pollution, Americans are calling for less.

A Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that fully 70 percent of Americans say the federal government should limit the amount of climate change pollution coming from power plants. Most Americans trust the EPA more than Congress when it comes to addressing pollution, according a recent poll done by the American Lung Association. And 51 percent of Kentuckians wanted McConnell to say he recognizes that human activity causes climate change—something he refused to do in the election season.

A strong majority of Americans want leaders to confront the climate crisis, but the Republican leadership has refused. They have failed utterly to offer any plan for dealing with the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our time. During his campaign, McConnell promised to handcuff the EPA and stop climate action. That attracted industry dollars. But it’s not why most people voted for him. Kentuckians want to breathe clean air and shield their children from disastrous impacts from climate change.

The NRDC Action Fund also made a promise during the midterms: We vowed to hold lawmakers accountable for backing polluters over people.

Our commitment doesn’t end with the campaign cycle. We stay on the job, tracking member votes, tallying industry lobbying dollars, and letting voters know when lawmakers try to make the air dirtier or the water less safe to drink.

So when McConnell spends 50 days pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, we spread the word in Kentucky and beyond. And when Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner votes against incentives for wind energy just months after he posed for a campaign ad in the middle of a wind farm, we let people know.

Because Washington shouldn’t be like Vegas: what happens there shouldn’t stay there. Voters should know what their lawmakers are doing. And they should expect those lawmakers to keep our kids safe from pollution.


Time for Clear Thinking on Keystone XL

The most damning statistic about TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline can be found in management’s own discussion of the project: The estimated annual rate of depreciation for “Oil pipeline and pumping equipment” is “approximately 2%-2.5%.”[1] What this means is that the entire project is based on the assumption that it will be carrying the tar sands oil for the next 40-50 years.

Tar sands oil, it is broadly acknowledged, is dirty fuel. In addition to local and regional environmental impacts, the process of producing tar sands oil generates three times the greenhouse gas pollution as producing conventional North American crude.[2] Support of the keystone pipeline is therefore a commitment to supporting one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet for the next 40-50 years.

If we acknowledge the threat posed by greater storms, droughts, and temperature extremes—if we know that we will be living in an increasingly carbon constrained world, such a commitment does not make any sense. Of course, we are not going to stop consuming oil tomorrow. But it does not follow from there that we need to make a new, 40-50 year commitment to production of the most polluting form of oil.

Investment can be better directed. At minimum, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is a way of tapping existing domestic sources with less carbon pollution than conventional oil. More importantly, investments in biofuels, electrification, and efficiency offer potentially higher returns than tar sands even prior to considering the cost of carbon pollution. But if you do consider carbon pollution, tar sands oil is not economic as compared to these choices, almost out of the starting blocks and certainly over time.

Joe Nocera, who has written in favor of approving the Keystone pipeline several times, recently noted that his last column on the Keystone Pipeline contained a serious error:

“In my column on Tuesday, I described the strategy of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists as boneheaded. In writing about the effect of a carbon tax on Canada’s tar sands oil, I was pretty boneheaded myself. I said such a tax would likely make tar sands oil more viable. But, obviously, it would do the opposite, by decreasing demand for oil and making the already expensive tar sands oil even less economically appealing. What was I thinking?”

Joe deserves credit here for this candid admission, but let me venture to answer his question “what was I thinking?” Turns out he also favors a carbon tax as a way of making polluters accountable for carbon pollution. But, properly understood, a meaningful fee on carbon pollution would tend to undermine the economic viability of tar sands oil—over time perhaps entirely, making the Keystone Pipeline a complete waste. To be in favor of the project, he really needed to botch the logic of the policy, and so he did.

Bottom line: If you favor holding polluters accountable for pollution, there’s no rationale for going forward with Keystone’s 40-50 year commitment to dirty fuel. Joe Nocera is not the only pundit that clings to the contradiction of acknowledging the serious problem of carbon pollution, yet favoring the Keystone pipeline. It’s time for him and others to pull off the logic blinders. Denying a permit to the Keystone Pipeline should be, as he would say, “a no-brainer.”

 Chris Arndt is a private investor and a member of the NRDC Action Fund board.





[1] http://www.transcanada.com/docs/Investor_Centre/2012_TCC_MDA.pdf

[2] http://www.pembina.org/pub/2404

President Obama Doubles Down on Clean Energy

I just finished watching the GOP primary debate in South Carolina. It was a pretty entertaining two hours which kicked off with Newt Gingrich admonishing CNN for daring ask a question about his personal question (um, didn’t he try to impeach a President over something personal?) and ended with all candidates agreeing that any of them would be better then the guy in office now. But what I found most interesting was not what they talked about – but what was missing. Where was energy?

Governor Romney made one attempt to talk energy when trying to deflect criticism for not releasing his taxes but besides that, there wasn’t a lot of talk about what will be a central part of our future.

President Obama demonstrated bold leadership this week when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. Some are trying to marginalize the Keystone decision by saying Obama made it to please wacko environmentalists. Newt Gingrich went so far as to say, “President Obama has made it clear once again that he is committed to Saul Alinksy radicalism at the expense of working Americans.”

The trouble is that the people lined up against the pipeline don’t fit into a radical box. Republican lawmakers in Nebraska, ranchers and farmers from the Heartland, security hawks in the Armed Forces, and religious leaders from across the country don’t count themselves among the extreme left. They are simply Americans who don’t think a dirty pipeline to export Canadian oil to Asia markets is in our national interest.

GOP leaders have also tried to turn the Keystone decision into a jobs issue, but they can’t even agree on the numbers. One industry-funded study being quoted was so far-reaching that it includes new jobs for dancers and choreographers in its tally. Here’s the number that matters most: the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, said in sworn testimony the project will only generate “hundreds” of permanent jobs.

Since the jobs numbers turned out to be thin, some lawmakers have tried to claim the pipeline would lower gas prices. But by diverting Canadian oil that would otherwise go to the Midwest, TransCanada has admitted the pipeline would increase the price Americans pay for Canadian oil by $3.9 billion. The other interesting thing is that the price of gas – when DOWN after the Keystone XL pipeline was rejected this week.

Next GOP leaders tried to position the Keystone decision as a sign he can’t stand up to his base. But even some pipeline supporters view Obama’s choice as a matter of fair play. They dislike that Republicans in Congress wanted Obama to ignore the extensive review process required by law for major infrastructure projects and approve a pipeline whose route hasn’t yet been confirmed—all within 60 days.

Governor Schweitzer told MSNBC, “As chief executive of Montana, if they ask me to approve of a pipeline with an incomplete application, I would have to reject it and I am the biggest proponent of this pipeline in America. These jokers in Congress that are trying to force the president to approve an incomplete application are just making mischief.”

What has impressed me most was that even as the Republican leaders were trying every argument they could, Obama doubled down. The same day he announced the Keystone decision he released his first 2012 campaign ad, and the topic was clean energy. It lays out the administration’s energy achievements, but it also positions clean energy as the path to the future.

In the end, that’s why Republicans and Democrats are fighting to win the energy messaging war in this race. They know energy is represents the trifecta of campaign-friendly values: patriotism, independence, and jobs.

The current Republican field’s collective vision for energy adds the value of conservatism — more of the same fossil fuels we have used for the past 100 years. Obama’s vision for energy layers on the values of ingenuity, innovation, leadership, and dominance in global markets. The dirty Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t have a place in the vision, and by rejecting, Obama has not only confirmed his clean energy leadership, but he has laid claim to powerful American values.

A win in the Keystone XL pipeline fight

While most of us were caught up in the emerging Herman Cain scandal of last week, big news came from the White House that President Obama called for a new review and year-long delay in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.

The announcement is a tremendous victory for all those who stood up against the Keystone XL pipeline and is a real testament for the strength of a people powered movement.

Here’s a great blog post by NRDC President Frances Beinecke on the administration’s decision to delay:

President Obama took a stand for the people of Nebraska today, and Americans everywhere, when his administration stood up to Big Oil to say we won’t put our people, waters and croplands at risk for the sake of pipeline profits and dirty fuels.

That kind of leadership takes courage, and I applaud the president for doing the right thing.

The State Department has decided to conduct a new review of the Keystone XL proposal. In its statement, officials said they will analyze alternative routes for the pipeline, but they also mentioned the need to consider “environmental concerns, including climate change.” The process will likely take until early 2013.

This is a major victory. For months, we’ve demonstrated the State Department’s review of the pipeline was flawed, inadequate, and possibly even biased. This project simply cannot withstand scrutiny. We are confident that after thorough review, President Obama will kill this dangerous pipeline once and for all.

Today’s announcement confirms the President’s commitment to building a clean energy future. In July, he proposed clean car standards that will cut vehicle carbon pollution in half, reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030, and create up to 150,000 American jobs. Earlier this week, the administration moved ahead with plans to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

These measures will unleash innovation, make the air safer for our families, and put Americans to work bringing our cars and power plants into the 21st century. Dirty tar sands oil—the production of which releases three times as many greenhouse gases as conventional crude—has no place in that future.

To learn more, continue reading “Victory in Keystone XL Pipeline Fight: Obama Administration Calls for New Review and a Year Delay.”