February 3 2014

The State Department Report Clearning Keystone Probably Didn't Make A Bit Of Difference

Abby Schachter

Regarding approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, my colleague Chalotte Hays wrote this:

“Unless he finds another way to delay (and we should not rule out an inventive delaying tactic), President Obama is faced with the prospect of making a decision that requires courage.”

Leaving courage aside, I believe the President has already told us whether he intends to change his position on the pipeline and finally approve it five years after the administration started “reviewing” the issue.

On Sunday, Obama’s Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough basically admitted to David Gregory that Obama has every intention of delaying approval for as long as possible.

McDonough did say that the State Department report – which essentially found that the pipeline would not pose a serious climate threat -- was a big step towards approval, but his next remark was especially illuminating: "We'll hear from other cabinet secretaries."

Which other cabinet secretaries could McDonough possibly be referring to? Arne Duncan at Education? The fact is that Keystone has been studied by multiple agencies and cabinet departments since it was first proposed in 2008. Once the route was jiggered to appease some of the project’s opponents, no serious student of oil distribution could deny that the pipeline was a safe and efficient way to transport tar sands from Canada to refineries in the Southern US. But as much as McDonough tried to deny it – he said the President would “insulate the project from politics” – delay has only ever been about politics.

The environmental movement, for the most part, is now in complete denial mode. No project is too small or large to oppose and Keystone has become the pinnacle of their agenda of no -- no fracking, no pipelines, no development of any fossil fuels anytime, anywhere, ever. As huge supporters of Obama’s two campaigns for president, moreover, the pressure to keep Keystone from being built has only increased over time. Just witness the bold-faced names that have joined the anti-Keystone anti-development parade.

And some analysts believe that the pipeline doesn’t need to be approved for the tar sands oil to come through the US in any case. “The same State Department report that essentially blessed its construction says that if the network is not developed, the tar sands would then likely make their way into this country via the rail system,” writes Ken Silverstein at Forbes.

If President Obama really wanted to have a courageous debate, he’d talk about the cost and benefits of oil and gas transported by rail vs. pipeline, which is an important discussion to have if you actually care about the environment and the people who in it.

Instead what we’ve had from Obama is bunch of assertions of “fact” about climate change and its dangers. Indeed, the section on man-made global warming was the only one with any energy during Obama’s recent State of the Union address.

So where does that leave Keystone? Likely exactly where it was before Friday’s State Department report and no closer to being approved and built.

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