Obama’s Devious Dithering Over the Keystone Pipeline

Keeping hope alive on both sides of the issue.

Keystone OilTranscanadaBuilding the Keystone pipeline from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast would mean “game over for the climate,” according to the climatologist turned climate activist James Hanson. Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change action group 350.org, calls the pipeline the “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Along with a host of other environmental activists, the two are trying to halt the construction of the pipeline, which if completed would ship 830,000 barrels of crude per day. Their political leverage point is that, because the pipeline crosses the border, President Barack Obama must decree that its construction is in the “national interest” before it can be built.

In a speech last June on climate change, President Obama declared that he would approve the Keystone pipeline only “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Last week, the U.S. Department of State’s new final supplemental environmental impact statement (FSEIS) on the pipeline concluded that it wouldn’t. If the pipeline were not built, the report reasoned, the same amount of oilsands crude would be transported by freight trains to the Gulf coast and/or by new pipelines to Canada’s east or west coasts. Since the oil is going to be produced and transported anyway, the FSEIS concluded, denying a construction permit to the pipeline will have essentially no effect on future trends in man-made climate change. The report also found that the pipeline construction and operation would not likely generate any especially harmful environmental spillovers such as polluting soil, ground and surface water, or the air. Construction would, however, inject about $3.3 billion into the U.S. economy and create more than 42,000 construction jobs.

So: Game over for the pipeline opponents? Hardly.

The FSEIS’ conclusions infuriated activists. “The State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline is a farce,” Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica declared in a statement. League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski warned that Obama faced “a choice between locking us into an unsafe future with more dirty and dangerous fuels or moving toward a clean energy economy that will help combat the climate crisis.” Earlier this week, activists held nearly 300 candlelit vigils across the country to protest the pipeline. At one of them, McKibben declared, “Now we’re going to find out whether [Secretary of State] John Kerry and Barack Obama are...captives of the oil industry or whether they’re willing to really stand up when it counts for the commitments they’ve made about climate change.”

On the other hand, proponents of the pipeline hailed the State Department’s report, urging the president to immediately greenlight the project. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said. “The only thing left is for President Obama to declare that this project is in our nation’s interest.” Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb) said, "There is no question that moving forward with Keystone XL is in our ‘national interest.’” Facing a tough re-election campaign, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) agreed: “This new study underscores what has been said all along about Keystone XL Pipeline: It’s time to build.”

After five years of positive environmental and economic reviews, it is way past time to let the project proceed. Yet stopping the pipeline has attained symbolic primacy for many activists, becoming a litmus test by which they demand that President Obama prove his environmental sincerity. Activist groups warn that if the administration doesn’t reject the pipeline, environmentalists in the Democratic Party’s base will stay home during the upcoming mid-term elections. Some 76,000 have also signed a pledge of resistance vowing to engage in acts of civil disobedience to protest the pipeline.

So what’s going to happen now? The State Department is soliciting public comments for the next month; it then has 90 days in which to consult with other federal agencies about their views of the Keystone project. That means that any ruling by the Obama administration can be delayed until at least June. In 2012, President Obama adroitly avoided making any decision with regard to the Keystone pipeline when it might have affected his campaign for a second term in office. By refusing to decide, the president kept hope alive on both sides of the issue. In this case, the past is probably prologue: Obama will bravely continue to dither over Keystone until after the Congressional elections in November.

Disclosure: Back in 2011, I went on a junket to report on the development of Alberta oil sands. My travel expenses were covered by the American Petroleum Institute. The API did not ask for nor did it have any editorial control over my reporting of this trip or, for that matter, any other reporting that I do. For more background, see my articles, "The Man-Made Miracle of Oil from Sand," and "Conflict Oil or Canadian Oil?"

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  • ||

    By refusing to decide, the president kept hope alive on both sides of the issue.

    See? Little did we know that all of this inaction was really just a brilliant tactical move in order to bring about the HOPE we voted for! THREE-DEE CHESS BITCHEZ!!!!1!!1

  • pan fried wylie||

    Obama Will Neither Approve Nor Disapprove the Keystone Pipeline

    Was I the only one retarded enough to interpret that as "Obama will stop meddling in shit." Silly me.

  • Pelosi's Rabbit||

    "Present."

  • pan fried wylie||

    whew.

  • The Last American Hero||

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Is that from a song?

  • Almanian!||

    Courtesy of the WORST LYRICIST EVER, yes.

    Neil Peart's insipid bleatings make "MacArthur Park" sound like Shakespeare.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Dithering is tactical.

    His method is kinda like a weak general who can't decide on a strategy only to have freak weather fall in his favor and lead him to victory.

  • Objective||

    Ah. Nice. A double wammy, 'cause Rush are from Canada.

  • Objective||

    *is. ma-bad.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Along with a host of other environmental activists"

    None of these people are environmental anything - they are eco-socialist wackos.

    Referring to any of them as enviromnentalists characterizes them as having some sort of substantive authority on the subject of the evironment - which not a single one of them does.

  • Sevo||

    As in:
    "Bill McKibben,[...] calls the pipeline the “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”"

    Yeah, and without that pipeline, well,....
    that oil is coming out of the ground whether the luddite Mckibben likes it or not.

  • Marshall Gill||

    McKibben is one of the worst. He is everything Paul Erlich wishes he could be.

  • SQRLSY One||

    McKibben sucks mah dick, doo-dah, doo-dah, do-da-doo-dah-day.. McKibben is a fascist enviro-whack-job zealot, may he die of thirst so that some AIDS viruses can have a drink, PLEASE?!?! Because non-humans matter, TOO, and humans are just a be-festerification upon GAIA and the Sacred Planet!!!

  • Johnimo||

    And when it comes out of the ground, it's going into a railroad tanker instead of the much safer XL Pipeline. The left is where the eco-terrorism is occurring. They are far more dangerous to our wellbeing than all the CO2 being released.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "Outraged environmental activists threatened massive civil disobedience and a hissy fit at the polls in November"

    I can see the civil disobedience, by voting against the Democrats? No, they learned their lesson after voting for Nader!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    but voting

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Just call their bluff already.

    It's insane that North America can be energy dependent yet we buy our oil from the Mid-east. Who, then turn around and buy European soccer teams.

    Won't be long some NBA or MLB or maybe even NHL teams.

    They're crossing the bridge!

  • IceTrey||

    Obama politically savvy. That's rich.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    would not significantly worsen man-made climate change.

    Um...you mean the "man-made climate change" for which no evidence exists, over the last 15 years? That man-made climate change?

  • Almanian!||

    Yeah - that one. It's gonna be WAY worse now.

    Ohhhhhh noes......

    *frets*

  • ||

    Um...you mean the "man-made climate change" for which no evidence exists, over the last 15 years? That man-made climate change?

    No, the climate change that will cause the oceans to rise 1-5 m over the next century. A problem that 830,000 barrels a day could wholly obviate or solve in 2-3 decades.

    That climate change.

  • grylliade||

    No, the climate change that will cause the oceans to rise 1-5 m over the next century.

    Ah, so the imaginary kind of climate change. The one that exists in the fever dreams of people who need a new, better, more scientific apocalypse, now that Y2K is dead in the water.

    Not the actual climate change, which will almost certainly result in a sea level rise of less than 1 m (if that).

  • RecycleCongress||

    Out of curiosity, does your head itch constantly from being under all that sand? The only debate left about man made climate change is the political one. The vast majority (like over 95%) of internationational scientific community has agreed that this is a real problem. There's some disagreement on how fucked we're going to be if we don't act now, but the status quo is not going to work.

  • Sevo||

    RecycleCongress|2.8.14 @ 10:21AM|#
    "Out of curiosity, does your head itch constantly from being under all that sand? The only debate left about man made climate change is the political one. The vast majority (like over 95%) of internationational scientific community has agreed that this is a real problem. There's some disagreement on how fucked we're going to be if we don't act now, but the status quo is not going to work."

    Out of curiosity, do you get dizzy from all that spinning?
    Don't you think we've heard this crap before? Have you noticed that the temp has now been stable for 15 years and counting?
    The only dispute left it how long bleevers will repeat this crap.

  • creech||

    A friend in the business says his Canadian contacts are waiting to see the outcome of the Nov. elections. Then, if it looks like the U.S. is still not likely to approve the pipeline, they are going to build west and sell their oil to Asia where it will go onboard those environmentally ultra safe tanker ships.

  • playa manhattan||

    PRESENT!

  • Almanian!||

    +0 votes

  • playa manhattan||

    +129 Illinois State Senate votes

  • ||

    But "consulting with other agencies", I am sure will include the EPA, which, possibly, could draw a different conclusion, which could provide a pretext for Obama to reject the pipeline.

    I'm not 100% confident that will happen.
    The fact that they even allowed the State Department to come to this conclusion is suggests that approval is possible. But I have trouble believing that the guy who declared that his presidency would herald the moment that oceans ceased rising is going to stick his finger in the eye of the environmental movement.

    If I was to be ultra-cynical I might conclude that Obama hates Keystone so much he's intentionally stringing them along to keep them from developing alternative plans.

  • Sevo||

    "If I was to be ultra-cynical I might conclude that Obama hates Keystone so much he's intentionally stringing them along to keep them from developing alternative plans."

    I don't think you're cynical enough. I doubt the guy cares about Keystone one way or the other, except as to how it affects his popularity.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    King Canute said he could stop the ocean from rising, but people knew he was joking.

  • Homple||

    Actually, King Canute did his tidewater stunt on purpose to demonstrate that, despite being king, some things were beyond his control. In this he was a leader far more self aware than King Barius the Fustest who actually said he would halt the ocean's rise.

  • Square||

    "Activist groups warn that if the administration doesn’t reject the pipeline, environmentalists in the Democratic Party’s base will stay home during the upcoming mid-term elections."

    That'll show 'em!

  • JWatts||

    I'm unconvinced the President is going to be able to placate the Environmental groups by refusing to do anything.

  • Square||

    Environmental groups are to the Democrats what conservative religious groups and Libertarians are to the Republicans. They can get pissed off and stay home all they like, but they're still not going to vote for the other party.

  • Square||

    "stopping the pipeline has attained symbolic primacy for many activists, becoming a litmus test by which they demand that President Obama prove his environmental sincerity"

    This is the essence of the problem. The report points out that the pipeline will actually REDUCE the "carbon footprint" of transporting this oil. You would think that environmentalists would be in favor of that. But the opposition to this particular pipeline has become such a mindless rallying cry that they have no idea they are actually HARMING the environment by opposing it.

    A radical environmentalist I knew many, many years ago predicted that exactly this sort of thing would start happening once environmentalism got politicized.

  • ||

    "the opposition to this particular pipeline has become such a mindless rallying cry that they have no idea they are actually HARMING the environment by opposing it."

    How is that different from solar panels, windmills, electric cars,...well, everything else the watermelons do?

  • John Thacker||

    Right, I mean it's fairly obvious that pipelines are better than trains are better than trucks, from an energy point of view.

    I realize that there's a fancy "if we make it cheaper to transport they'll extract more of it" argument, but if they really believe that, the same environmentalists should be ripping up CAFE standards.

  • Square||

    I think a lot of them really do think that just not pumping the oil in Alaska is an option that's still on the table.

    I once argued that we should allow the drilling now precisely because no drilling happens now without an incredible amount of environmental sensitivity, whereas if we wait for a time when we're truly desperate for oil, we'll wind up doing it Russian style - i.e. "fuck Mother Nature, Comrade."

    I got a really blank look in response.

  • Sevo||

    And you simply must love this:
    "[the] Keystone pipeline [...] would mean “game over for the climate,” according to [...] James Hanson."

    I mean, the guy's NEVER been wrong in his predictions, right? Every one of his predictions is absolutely correct!
    Except for every one.

  • Square||

    No, man, this one's dead on. Let oil run through that pipeline and BAM! There goes the Earth. We might as well just give up.

  • wwhorton||

    I don't know, I find his understated and calm phrasing refreshing in an environment rife with hyperbolic, Manichean bomb-throwers...

  • OneOut||

    Burning 300 candles (or more) is bad for the environment.

  • Alien Invader||

    What about burning environmentalists? They're pure of intent and love Gaia and all that, so burning them must not be bad.

    Oh, sorry...

  • Mr.Krinkle||

    "If this pipeline is built, it will spill huge amounts of oil in the environment!"
    Pipeline is built.
    Activists damage the pipeline in protest, spilling huge amounts of oil.

  • ||

    I just remembered Tony's rant against 'illegitimate' profits a year or two ago. By his description of that, anyone who profits from the acquisition of raw materials is profiting illegitimately.

    I think that is the heart of the objection to the pipeline. Profits.
    If the price of stopping the kocktopus from making a profit is additional environmental damage they will gladly pay it.

    Watermelons don't give a shit about the environment. Sick, evil fucks.

  • gimmeasammich||

    If you had the pleasure of listening to Thom Hartmann's radio show yesterday, this is exactly what he was whimpering on about. Stop Koch profits uber alles!

  • Aresen||

    Obama will bravely continue to dither over Keystone until after the Congressional elections in November.

    And he will continue after that.

    The Conservatives are up for re-election in the spring of 2015 and there is a good chance that Trudeau-the-Preppy will win and kill it from the Canadian end.

    At this point, the Conservatives would welcome ANY decision, even a negative one.

  • Pulseguy||

    I actual think if Trudeau kills the Western pipeline, and Obama kills the southern pipeline, Alberta will separate, and probably take BC along with it. I'm from BC. I would be okay with that.

    However....I don't think Trudeau can win. But, if he does, he seems to hate Albertans.

  • ||

    If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over

    Time to find a green mushroom.

  • Jackand Ace||

    “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

    Yes he said that. And he also said ""we will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

    And environmental groups are reminding him that encouraging the development of the tar sands would betray that promise to future generations, and would in fact NOT be responsive to climate change.

    And in another way, even considering the State Department report, allowing the pipeline to be built does exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. Because it says that the excuse "its going to get burned anyway" is an excuse that can always be used until all of the fossil fuels are taken out of the ground and burned. Everyone can use that excuse, and that only paves the road to disaster.

    For environmental groups, this may as well be the point to declare that there would be no turning back.

  • Sevo||

    ..."Everyone can use that excuse, and that only paves the road to disaster."...

    Jeeze, maybe you should just commit suicide and save yourself the grief.

  • Jackand Ace||

    You're just such a mature adult, sevo. Keep at it...you're the perfect spokesman for your side.

  • Sevo||

    Jackand Ace|2.7.14 @ 6:20PM|#
    "You're just such a mature adult, sevo. Keep at it...you're the perfect spokesman for your side."

    You're such a fucking idiot; you think I care for a minute whether you're convinced?
    Go get screwed with a farm implement.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Seems like you do care. But here is a thought for you. Unless you are responding to one of my comments, whenever I see a comment by sevo, I never read it. Why? Because I know there is nothing new to be learned there. I skip it. You should do the same. It'll keep your blood pressure down.

  • Sevo||

    Jackand Ace|2.8.14 @ 9:30AM|#
    "Seems like you do care."

    Only a narcissistic idiot would presume so.
    Go get screwed with a rusty shovel.

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  • scareduck||

    All these comments, yet none of them nor the body text mention that Keystone XL represents the use of eminent domain for private benefit. Why should we want this again? And why is Reason banging this drum?

  • Stephdumas||

    To tease and annoy Robert Redford who claim to save the planet but do otherwise like usinghis jet. ;-)

    And I prefer pipelines instead of being transported by rail after that tragedy at Lac-Megantic in July 2013
    http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/d.....-1.1374099 the website American Thinker got a interesting point on the subject http://www.americanthinker.com.....gence.html

  • Mock-star||

    This is what Ive always wondered. Kelo was a bad thing, remember?

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    I can make it simple for you, from a libertarian standpoint.

    Pipeline is good

    Eminent Domain is bad

    Allow pipeline to be built. Do not use eminent domain to steal land for it.

    We can argue and scream about eminent domain once they allow the pipeline AT ALL. The way we argue and scream about it now.

  • Sevo||

    scareduck|2.7.14 @ 5:50PM|#
    "All these comments, yet none of them nor the body text mention that Keystone XL represents the use of eminent domain for private benefit."

    You're right; that didn't get mentioned in this thread at all. It commonly does, and it's the reason I'm not sold on the pipeline, especially since the oil is going to go to market anyhow.
    I AM sold on tweaking watermelons.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I AM sold on tweaking watermelons."

    Tweaking them is good.

    Stomping them into pulp is better.

  • Alien Invader||

    "Tweaking them is good."

    It is only good if it is prelude to stomping them into pulp. Otherwise, I submit that it is immoral.

    No good watermelon should go un-stomped.

  • ||

    The opinions of the population of government and even of scientists ought not to be involved in economic decisions in the first place.

  • Eric Bana||

    In summary, Obama is a P.O.S.

  • cheap soccer jerseys||

    Then, if it looks like the U.S. is still not likely to approve the pipeline, they are going to build west and sell their oil to Asia where it will go onboard those environmentally ultra safe tanker ships.

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