Key­stone pipe­line’s judg­ment day looms for Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Pres­i­dent Obama’s loom­ing de­ci­sion whether to ap­prove the Key­stone XL pipe­line, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ar­gue, will de­fine his legacy on cli­mate change.

With pres­sure mount­ing from the oil and gas in­dus­try and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to ap­prove the mas­sive project, which would bring fuel from Canada’s oil sands through the U.S. en route to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies, the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment has un­leashed its own pub­lic pres­sure on the pres­i­dent.

Thou­sands of Key­stone op­po­nents ral­lied out­side the White House on Nov. 18, and sim­i­lar protests — in­clud­ing one sched­uled for Pres­i­dents Day — are ex­pected in the coming months.

With Mr. Obama no longer con­cerned with se­cur­ing re­elec­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are urg­ing him to take dras­tic steps to fight cli­mate change.

“Key­stone is the pure test for the pres­i­dent, the first really sim­ple, pure test where we’ll find out whether he’s ca­pa­ble of leav­ing some car­bon in the ground,” en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Bill McKibben, one of the lead­ing Key­stone crit­ics, said at a Nov. 19 news con­fer­ence in Washington. “It’ll be pretty darned clear when he makes the de­ci­sion on Key­stone whether or not he’s paying much at­ten­tion to cli­mate” change is­sues.

Last year, Mr. Obama de­layed a de­ci­sion on the project, claim­ing more time was needed to study its po­ten­tial im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. Tran­sCanada, the com­pany propos­ing the project, in the mean­time has ad­justed its planned route to avoid sen­si­tive ar­eas such as Ne­braska’s water aquifer.

Ac­tivists such as Mr. McKibben, how­ever, say the route re­mains prob­lem­atic.

They also ar­gue that if Mr. Obama ap­proves the pipe­line, he will ren­der moot the pos­i­tive steps taken to fight cli­mate change, such as the im­ple­men­ta­tion of new fuel econ­omy stan­dards and ma­jor spend­ing on “green” en­ergy tech­nol­ogy.

Though the can­cel­la­tion of Key­stone would limit U.S. ac­cess to Cana­dian oil sands, it would have no im­pact on cli­mate change if Canada sells the oil to Asian mar­kets in­stead. How­ever, the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists at the news con­fer­ence said a U.S. can­cel­la­tion would boost their move­ment in Canada, too.

But Mr. Obama is fac­ing equally strong pres­sure from the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute and other oil and gas groups, which are lob­by­ing the pres­i­dent to ap­prove the pipe­line as part an over­all plan to breathe life into the econ­omy. Just hours af­ter Mr. Obama’s elec­tion vic­tory over Repub­li­can chal­lenger Mitt Rom­ney was se­cured, API Pres­i­dent Jack Ger­ard urged the pres­i­dent to “ap­prove the Key­stone pipe­line and put thou­sands of Amer­i­cans to work im­me­di­ately.”

Mr. Obama has faced sim­i­lar calls from the Repub­li­can-led House, and those calls now carry more weight in light of pro­jec­tions from the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency show­ing that North Amer­ica is on course to be en­ergy self-suf­fi­cient within a decade.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists want the U.S. to break its re­liance on for­eign oil, but pre­fer to see that in­de­pen­dence come from in­creased use of wind, so­lar and other forms of “green power.” They say Mr. Obama’s de­ci­sion on the pipe­line will re­ver­ber­ate far be­yond the project it­self and will de­fine the Amer­i­can en­ergy land­scape for years to come.

The tide, they ar­gue, is turn­ing against fos­sil fu­els and to­ward re­new­able sources. That trend makes it likely that a project on the scale of Key­stone will be much less palat­able to the pub­lic by 2016, mean­ing Mr. Obama may hold the power to kill it once and for all by re­ject­ing it dur­ing his sec­ond term.

“The win­dow for th­ese sorts of projects … is be­gin­ning to close. I’m con­fi­dent that the pres­i­dent will see that in the coming months,” said An­thony Swift, an at­tor­ney with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.


Pro­test­ers carry a mock pipe­line past the White House on Nov. 18, send­ing a mes­sage that Pres­i­dent Obama’s de­ci­sion on Key­stone XL will be the “pure test” of his com­mit­ment to fight cli­mate change.

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