Energy & Environment

Approval of Keystone XL is Not an Inevitability

Mark Bittman argues that President Obama’s approval of Keystone XL is not a foregone conclusion.

The State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is “a Rorschach test; you can read it anyway you like. And the lines in the Tar Sands were drawn long ago. If you support Keystone XL, you support further development of nonrenewable, carbon-intensive energy sources.”

“Keystone is a real test of President Obama’s resolve, his principles, and his stated desires to slow climate change and support alternative energy sources; he can make a real difference here, and it’s his decision.”

“Keystone XL is not like the farm bill, a miserable fait accompli that’s already seen as an inevitable compromise. Here the president has real power: the power to just say no.”

Keystone XL Pipeline Decision: Mired in Politics?

President Obama’s final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project is in danger of being clouded by politics, and not based on sound policy. Both sides are threatening retribution.

The Hill: “’It is very likely that there will be negative consequences for Democrats if Keystone were approved,’ said Kate Colarulli, the associate director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign. ‘This is a tremendous opportunity to protect the climate and build the Democratic base if Obama rejects Keystone XL.’”

“Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday the decision to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline is a political one, and not one founded in science.”

“Which is why lawmakers that support Keystone have said they are concerned Obama would try to delay a decision until after midterms.”

“But if Obama doesn’t set a timeline for a decision soon, a group of Senate lawmakers could propose legislation imposing a deadline for the president.”

EPA Struggles to Create Pollution Rule

“In marathon meetings and tense all-day drafting sessions, dozens of lawyers, economists and engineers at the Environmental Protection Agency are struggling to create what is certain to be a divisive but potentially historic centerpiece of President Obama’s climate change legacy,” the New York Times reports.

“If the authors succeed in writing a lawsuit-proof regulation that is effective in cutting carbon emissions from America’s 1,500 power plants — the largest source of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution — the result could be the most significant action taken by the United States to curb climate change.”

“But if the language in the regulation is too loose, there could be little environmental impact. And if it is too stringent, it could lead to the shutdown of coal plants before there is enough alternative power to replace them and, ultimately, to soaring electric bills, power blackouts and years of legal battles.”

What West Virginia Tells Us About the Nation’s Drinking Water

The recent chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated its water system has prompted closer scrutiny of the nation’s water supply.

Wall Street Journal: “Interviews with water-quality and security experts, as well as a review of documents, show that a 1996 federal program known as ‘source water protection’ has led to wide disparities in how well the nation’s drinking-water supplies are monitored. A Senate committee hearing Tuesday is expected to examine those gaps.”

“The 1996 federal program, which required the one-time assessment of all 51,870 water systems nationwide, was broad” and did not require states to develop protection plans.

“By 2012, 40% of utilities had begun to implement such a plan, an EPA report concluded. A 2009 Water Research Foundation survey of 30 utilities found nearly half didn’t seem to know what source-water protection programs were.”

Chi Ho Sham of the Cadmus Group Inc: “There are a lot of vulnerable and very susceptible water systems out there … Because of resource constraints, not too many are actually doing a lot of work.”

A Keystone XL Primer

Brad Plumer condenses the State Department’s massive Keystone XL pipeline environmental review into four takeaways.

The report’s main conclusion: The northern leg of the pipeline would not have a “significant” impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions because most of the tar sands from the Alberta fields would find a market anyway.

  1. Oil from Alberta’s tar sands produces 17% more GHG emissions over its life-cycle than regular oil.
  2. The State Department thinks blocking the Keystone XL pipeline would have only a small impact on tar-sands production and climate change. If rail is used instead, overall transportation emissions could well even increase by 28 to 42%.
  3. A pipeline spill is “unlikely” to affect the key Ogallala Aquifer.
  4. The Keystone XL project, if built, would support 42,000 jobs over its two-year construction period. Of those, about 3,900 would be temporary construction jobs.

Shell Backs Away From Arctic Offshore Drilling Plans

National Journal: “Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday that it’s scrapping controversial plans to drill off Alaska’s coast this year after a court ruling threw the legal status of its leases into question.”

“The court ruling is the latest setback for Shell’s years-long, multibillion-dollar campaign to explore what are believed to be giant oil deposits in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s coast.”

“Environmental groups oppose drilling in the Arctic region that’s home to polar bears, bowhead whales, and other endangered or fragile species, arguing that it’s too difficult to contain potential spills.”

Keystone XL Report Not Good News for Activists

The State Department’s final report on the Keystone pipeline will probably not include the substantive changes proposed by environmental groups and Keystone opponents.

Bloomberg: “The March [draft] concluded that the Canada-U.S. oil pipeline would have only a minimal impact on carbon emissions, because the oil sands in Alberta will be developed anyway. Several people briefed on the findings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said they expect the final report will track that conclusion.”

But “changes could still be made to the [Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement] before its release, which may come tomorrow.”

“Rejecting Keystone carries its own consequences for Obama. It would anger Canadian officials and could hurt Democrats up for re-election in the Senate from oil states.”

You’re Safer From Toxic Chemicals in These States


“The chemical industry has taken an aggressive approach, spending millions on lobbying campaigns to crush state initiatives,” EcoWatch reports.

But some states have stood up to the intense lobbying: “So it’s truly a patriotic moment when lawmakers reach across the aisle and pass a law to protect their people. And it happens: most of the several hundred state toxics policies passed with broad bipartisan support, and bills were signed into law by both Republican and Democratic governors.”

Energy Lobby Fuels Environmental Crisis

Jeffrey Sachs urges lawmakers to resist the fossil fuel lobby’s efforts to maintain a high carbon economy.

“American politicians have proved to be incapable of designing policies to shift the US to low-carbon energy use. Such policies would include a rising tax on CO2 emissions, large-scale research-and-development efforts in low-carbon technologies, a shift to electric vehicles, and regulations to phase out all coal-fired power plants except those that install CCS.”

“The path to deep decarbonization is open to us. Yet time is very short. The world needs to stop building new coal-fired power plants (except those that implement CCS) and to shift to low-carbon electricity. It needs to phase out the internal combustion engine for almost all new passenger vehicles by around 2030, shifting to vehicles powered by electricity. And it needs to adopt energy-saving technologies that consume less commercial energy. The technologies are available and will get better and cheaper with use, if only fossil-fuel lobbies can be held at bay.”

Climate Change Policy: Obama Must Take the Lead

The growing body of scientific evidence supports the theory of human-induced global warming.

Eugene Robinson asks: “Is there uncertainty in these predictions? Of course. But human-induced global warming is the only explanation that fits the evidence. Until someone comes up with a better theory, it is foolish to wager that the near-unanimous consensus of climate scientists is totally wrong.”

“But, yes, we are fools.”

“I’m referring also to officials in the United States and around the world who accept the science and understand the peril but who will not take action because the economic and political costs are so high.”

“President Obama, who understands the science, should use his executive powers as best he can, not just to reduce carbon emissions but also to prepare the country for confronting the environmental, political and military hazards of a warmer world.”

“The day will come, I predict, when world leaders are willing, even desperate, to curb greenhouse gases. But by then, I’m beginning to fear, it will probably be too late.”

Keystone Pipeline Will be Absent from SOTU Speech

President Obama will probably avoid a mention of the Keystone XL pipeline project during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. But he needs to make a decision on giving the green light on the project soon.

Jeff Mason: “For Obama, a decision in favor of the pipeline could undermine the Democratic president’s environmental credentials and anger activists who have supported him just as his administration is writing new rules to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.”

“A decision against the pipeline could undercut Obama’s pledge to boost employment and U.S. energy security while alienating an important international ally and oil supplier.”

“All 45 Republican U.S. senators urged Obama on Friday to end the delays and noted in a letter that he had told them in March that a decision would be made before the end of 2013.”

“A senior administration official said the president viewed the issue as one that had become disproportionately symbolic and super-charged for both sides. He does not believe it is the job creator that its backers suggest or the environmental nemesis that its objectors fear, the official said.”

Keystone Builder Spends Over $1 Million in Lobbying Efforts

Bloomberg: “TransCanada … spent $1.05 million to lobby Congress and the administration last year, about 24 percent more than it spent in 2012.”

“TransCanada spent $260,000 on lobbying in the fourth quarter, the records show. The records don’t specify how much was spent on any issue, though the company said it lobbied on Keystone and issues related to natural gas.”

“Its chief Washington lobbyist, Paul Elliott, is a former top campaign aide Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of State in President Barack Obama’s first term.”