Political Animal

Blog

January 31, 2014 5:17 PM Another Hurdle Cleared For Keystone XL

By Ed Kilgore

You could sort of sense this (as reported by Coral Davenport for the New York Times) coming, couldn’t you?

The State Department released a report on Friday that could pave the way toward President Obama’s approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The long-awaited environmental impact statement on the project concludes that approval or denial of the pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is unlikely to prompt oil companies to change the rate of their extraction of carbon-heavy tar sands oil, a State Department official said. Either way, the tar sands oil, which produces significantly more planet-warming carbon pollution than standard methods of drilling, is coming out of the ground, the report says.

Before the yelling and screaming starts, however, it’s important to note the review of the pipeline project is far from over, even in the State Department:

The report released on Friday, however, is far from the final decision on the project. The State Department must next determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest. That involves taking into account both the environmental and economic impact of the project, as well as its impact on the relationship between the United States and Canada, the nation’s largest trading partner and largest source of foreign oil.

Although Secretary of State John Kerry must weigh in with a recommendation to the president on whether to approve the pipeline, it is the president who must make the ultimate decision. Nonetheless, the assignment creates a difficult situation for Mr. Kerry, who has a long record of trying to tackle climate change and hopes to make the issue a signature of his tenure at the State Department.
Mr. Kerry has repeatedly been asked about his views on the pipeline but has never publicly commented on it. He has no deadline to make the determination. A State Department official said he was preparing to “dive in” to the 11-volume environmental impact statement as a first step.

Knowing Kerry a bit, I would observe that he is indeed the sort of guy who would “dive in” to an 11-volume environmental impact statement. But the final decision is unquestionably the president’s.

At MoJo, Molly Redden had a quick roundup of initial reactions. These two are interesting when juxtaposed:

Cindy Schild, senior manager for refining and oil sands policy at the American Petroleum Institute, told Bloomberg News, “If they can’t show this project is in our national interest, what is? The only thing left [is] for the president to decide that this project is in our national interest…”
In a statement, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program director, said, “This is far from over. Next we must address whether the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be in America’s national interest. To that question, there is only one answer: No. The evidence is overwhelming that this project would significantly worsen carbon pollution, endanger our farms, our homes and our fresh water, create few jobs and transport dirty tar sands to the Gulf for export.”

There’s been a simmering argument going on among progressives as to whether environmental groups have over-invested in this issue at the expense of other with greater impact on climate change (Jonathan Chait revives the charge in the wake of today’s announcement, but does quote a rejoinder from our own Ryan Cooper). I’d say that argument is becoming a bit moot, no matter which way Obama goes on the ultimate decision. It’s going to be decided, and if Obama approves the project, environmentalists have little choice but to swallow their anger and prepare to fight for Obama tooth and nail on the upcoming battle over EPA regulation of utilities.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus