Obama may reject Keystone XL pipeline after all

  • Published on November 20th, 2014

By Meteor Blades

Sen. Mary Landrieu’s effort to squeak by in the Louisiana run-off election that every prognosticator of note says she will lose, failed in a squeaker of its own Tuesday. She could only get 13 of her fellow Democrats to join her and all 45 Republican senators in trying, once again, to make an end-run around the executive branch process for deciding whether the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline is in the “national interest.” She needed 14. Check out Rachel Maddow or LeftHandedMan for two excoriating looks at her desperate antics.

Political scuttlebutt has it that Keystone XL will come up again in January when Republican senators will have a majority of 54 if Landrieu loses (an increase of nine) and at least 244 representatives (up 10 from the current House GOP majority). But there is still the matter of the veto stamp in President Obama’s drawer. While Obama might ultimately favor the XL, he’s almost certain to veto any legislation that tries to circumvent the half-century-old method of approving international pipelines. A method tweaked but kept in place by his immediate predecessor just a decade ago.

But, even though some presidential critics in environmental and leftist circles have said all along that Obama would approve the pipeline while less acerbic others said he probably would do so, there’s increasing evidence that he may not. Andrew Restuccia at Politico (yes, yes, I know) wrote Wednesday:

The past two weeks offer the strongest evidence to date that Obama may reject the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline: He made a groundbreaking global warming deal with China—the latest sign that he is building a serious climate change legacy. He has been more dismissive than ever of GOP arguments that Keystone would be a major job creator. And he has lost much of the political urgency for considering the pipeline—the most vulnerable red-state Democrats lost on Election Day, so there’s less reason to cater to endangered centrists begging for a “yes” vote on Keystone.

Obama’s former aides, and others closely following the six-years-and-running Keystone drama, insist he still has plenty of wiggle room to rule either way when he finally renders a verdict, which could come in early 2015. The administration’s official stance is that it’s still awaiting the outcome of the State Department’s review of the project’s merits.

Keystone XL foes got their hopes raised slightly by Obama’s June 2013 climate speech in which he hinted it would be rejected unless it could be determined that it would not lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. But the State Department’s much-criticized environmental impact statement issued the first of this year put the kibosh on that. Last week, however, Obama repeated a major (and much disputed) claim of leading Keystone XL foes while he was visiting Myanmar: “Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.”

In the six-hour Wednesday Senate debate, Ed Markey of Massachusetts made the strongest statement about the pipeline in that regard, calling KXL the Keystone Export Line.

Critics of the critics say the Keystone XL fight is a chimera. They say the pipeline is not for exporting Canadian petroleum from the tar sands to the world market. They say opposition to it has hurt the Democratic Party, done nothing to protect the environment and won’t matter anyway because other means, particularly rail, will move that petroleum into the United States if the Obama administration decides that Keystone XL is not in the national interest.

There’s certainly much truth to that latter claim. For one thing, existing pipelines have long been delivering tar sands oil to refineries in the States, and, since last December, rail has been carrying some here, too. Although it was more expensive to move oil of any sort by rail previously, by many accounts it has become cheaper whether that’s conventional crude or bitumen from the deposits in Alberta. There are investment plans to boost current capacity of oil-by-rail from one million barrels of oil per day—most of that not from the tar sands—to five million barrels, much of which would be from the tar sands.

Even without rail, there is also the matter of the Alberta Clipper. That pipeline, which already carries 400,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Alberta to Wisconsin, would double if owner Enbridge manages to win the permit games it’s playing with the State Department, according to InsideClimate News. That effort got some ink and pixels last week in Newsweek:

But, frustrated with the lengthy permitting process, Enbridge engineered a work-around that appears to get the job done, without a permit. By running a connection between two parallel Enbridge pipelines right on the border with the U.S., the company will be able to swap the contents of each. As the crude approaches the border with Canada in the Alberta Clipper pipeline, it will be diverted into the parallel “Line 3” pipeline, and swapped back into the Clipper once it reaches the U.S. The move is projected to increase capacity to 570,000 barrels per day. But by the middle of next year, the company says it will transport 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian tar sands into the U.S. with “no additional permit,” according to Enbridge attorney David Coburn.

Newsweek says Enbridge is headed for victory unless someone files a lawsuit.That seems quite possible since 18 eco-activist groups—including Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and 350.org all signed a Sept. 11 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry complaining about the department’s July 24 letter to Enbridge giving it the go-head to divert to Line 3 without additional approval.

Focusing on the Keystone XL battle is quixotic, according to some critics. Tar sands developers, they say, will find a way if the pipeline is rejected. But that analysis fails to understand that the pipeline is both symbol and reality of the future of world energy, a world where the science of climate change is either acknowledged or ignored. The fight isn’t about Keystone XL in isolation. It never has been.

(Originally published at DailyKos.)

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