Is Keystone XL worth the fight?

Climate change activist and author Bill McKibben, being arrested at a Keystone XL Pipeline protest at the White House. Photo: Milan Ilnyckyj, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Climate change activist and author Bill McKibben, being arrested at a Keystone XL Pipeline protest at the White House. Photo: Milan Ilnyckyj, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Those who follow the debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline have very likely formed their own opinion about the project’s merits, or dangers. Further presentations may not change any minds.

The controversial project is still awaiting approval or rejection by President Obama. Late last month the U.S. State Department issued its final environmental impact statement. As summarized by this Jan 31st article in the New York Times:

The State Department released a report on Friday concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution, leaving an opening for President Obama to approve the politically divisive project.

The department’s long-awaited environmental impact statement appears to indicate that the project could pass the criteria Mr. Obama set forth in a speech last summer when he said he would approve the 1,700-mile pipeline if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

Political pressure surrounding Keystone is intense and could be especially problematic for this president, as conveyed by the Washington Post:

The decision remains politically fraught for Democrats. Environmental activists fiercely oppose it, arguing that the pipeline could leak, would accelerate development of the greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands in Alberta and would increase the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Wendy Abrams, founder of the Chicago-based nonprofit group Cool Globes and a major Democratic campaign contributor, said she felt a “gut-wrenching pain for my kids” when she read the report. She said it made her question her past support of Obama and Kerry. “If they can’t get it done, what am I hoping for?”

The New York Times recently gave the topic “Room for Debate” treatment, asking: Is Keystone worth the Fight?

The yes column was represented by: Bill McKibben, environmentalist; J. David Huges, geoscientist; Jane Kleep from Bold Nebraska and Erich Pica with Friends of the Earth U.S.

McKibben framed it this way:

As it turns out, Keystone XL is the issue that has brought more activists into the street than any environmental question in a generation. That’s because they understand that if we’re ever going to tackle global warming we actually have to leave some carbon in the ground. And they understood that this was one place where President Obama, acting by himself, could make an enormous difference. Should he do the right thing, it would be the first time a world leader has said: Here’s a project we won’t build because of its effect on the climate.

The no column included: Tony Horwitz, author, “Boom”; Burton Richter, physicist; Cindy Schild, American Petroleum Institute and Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger with the Breakthrough Institute. Those arguments range from Keystone XL being a good/necessary project or that its dangers have been overstated in a way that misdirect attention from more important efforts.

Here’s how Burton Richter, author of “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century” put it:

Those opposed to Keystone are trying to mobilize support for a cause: combating climate change. I do support that cause, but will not waste time or effort on things that do no real good. Now if the Keystone opponents wanted to mobilize to push through a carbon tax, I would be with them, but that is much harder. The anti-Keystone movement is fundamentally about politics and building support for the “anti-something” organizations.

This is where a post would normally close with some sage observation. But I can only state the obvious: Canadians and Americans remain divided on the pros and cons of this project. And reasoned arguments seem unable to bridge that fundamental divide.

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57 Comments on “Is Keystone XL worth the fight?”

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  1. Walker says:

    “Walker, sure but those don’t exist and won’t exist.

    Oil and natural gas are valuable world wide commodities, they are not “make work” jobs to try to find something for people to do; they are real; they are producing something that is needed for the entire globe…”

    Mervel, our highways and bridges are crumbling. (Remember the Champlain Bridge?) It’s not make-work. It’s real. It may not be needed for the entire globe, but it’s needed by the entire U.S.

    The real difference is that repairing roads and bridges doesn’t have a deep-pocketed lobbyist in Congress. That, and the fact that it will put a whole lot more people to work all across the nation.

  2. Walker says:

    Am I the only one who keeps coming across comments from people who have come back from visiting other countries saying that their transportation infrastructure looks decades ahead of ours?

  3. mervel says:

    Walker I do agree. But its pie in the sky, its not going to happen. Obama had the best chance of any recent president of kicking something like that off with his response to the Great Recession, it didn’t really happen. We don’t have public funds or the will. The oil and natural gas industry is creating jobs now. What you are talking about might happen within the next 50 years or so as we have no choice but it will be piecemeal. The reality is as industry demands better infrastructure than you will see change in that area. But there is no need for better bridges and roads when no one is working and trucks don’t need to drive on them.

  4. mervel says:

    Sure start the debate in congress, start the conversations, slowly move this public works program through legislation, how does that put food on the table and pay heat bills this winter, now, for people who need good paying blue collar jobs? Its all fine and good for us to make political points about the US needing to be more like Europe in this area, I basically agree with them, but I see people everyday who for them that argument is worthless and not relevant to what they need right now.

  5. Walker says:

    All we need is Democratic super majorities in both houses and we could do it tomorrow. We certainly do have the money to do it, we just need to scale back on our bloated military spending (and I don’t mean spending on veterans).

    We just need the will. I agree with you, though, that so long as Citizen’s United is the law of the land, there isn’t a chance in hell. Someday people are going to wake up.

  6. mervel says:

    It would be great to transfer that military spending into public works infrastructure programs.

  7. myown says:

    “It would be great to transfer that military spending into public works infrastructure programs.”

    And it would be refreshing to see politicians (Democrats included) make that argument instead getting apoplectic over the recently announced military cuts.

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