Obama hints that Keystone XL may be rejected

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 15:47 EDT
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President Barack Obama speaks about climate change to an audience at Georgetown University. Screenshot via YouTube.
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Speaking Tuesday morning about his plans to tackle climate change, President Barack Obama said that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will only be approved if the State Department concludes that it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”

The president’s comments at Georgetown University on Tuesday are the first he’s made in months about plans for the continent-spanning pipeline that’s already under construction in some southern states. His administration has long been expected to approve the plans, much to the chagrin of his supporters and leading environmentalists. Obama also announced a series of executive actions Tuesday geared toward addressing climate change, which environmentalists largely panned as “modest” half measures that fall short of the minimum requirements to stifle the most severe changes in Earth’s climate.

“I do want to be clear,” Obama said. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so will be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.”

Speaking to Raw Story, climate activism group 350.org spokesperson Daniel Kessler said Obama’s comments Tuesday reached “11″ on a one-to-ten scale measuring his level of surprise. “Based on the president’s own criteria, it’s very unlikely that he could approve the premise of this pipeline,” he said. “His criteria seems to be if it leads to a net increase of emissions, and everybody — including the industry — thinks this will lead to an increase in emissions.”

Rachel Wolf, a spokesperson for the anti-Keystone group All Risk, No Reward Coalition, reacted similarly. “With this promise to the American people to reject the pipeline if it will increase climate pollution, the President has taken a huge step towards rejecting Keystone XL, given that evidence has already shown that the pipeline will increase GHG emissions and have serious climate consequences,” she told Raw Story in a prepared statement.

The oil this pipeline is meant to carry is Canadian tar sands, which requires a much more energy-intensive process to mine, liquify and transport. It all adds up to about 14 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than average light, sweet crude, according to Scientific American.

Added, Canada has such a large reserve of tar sands, it’s been called the second-largest standing pool of trapped carbon energy left on Earth. Tapping that energy would add massively to greenhouse gas pollution, as the industry is aiming to produce 6 million barrels of tar sands oil per day by 2030. The numbers are so daunting that 29 of the nation’s leading scientists joined together earlier this month and issued an open letter beseeching Obama to turn down the pipeline.

The letter specifically calls out a State Department review that concluded in 2011, finding that the pipeline would not significantly exacerbate the climate crisis. However, critics of that assessment noted that it assumes Canada’s tar sands will be tapped with or without the Keystone XL pipeline’s construction, effectively negating the need to even run the equation on how much trapped carbon could potentially be unleashed.

Media reports later revealed that the State Deptartment allowed pipeline owner TransCanada to screen applicants looking to conduct the environmental impact study. That drew the ire of two members of Congress, who demanded an investigation into allegedly improper relationships between State Department employees and TransCanada lobbyists. That probe is still ongoing at the Office of the Inspector General.

Reacting to the speech, former Vice President Al Gore breathlessly praised the president’s resolve to tackle climate change, calling it “by far the best address on climate by any president ever.”

“I hope the President’s speech will be followed up by a decision to make this challenge a centerpiece of his leadership during his remaining three and a half years in office,” Gore wrote. “The hard truth is that the maximum that now seems politically feasible still falls short of the minimum necessary to actually solve the climate crisis. Continued and constant use of the bully pulpit, determined follow-through on the steps announced today, and additional steps in the months ahead can change the political reality and build a bipartisan consensus for the broader changes that are needed urgently.

This video was published to YouTube by the White House on Tuesday, June 25, 2013.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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