The State Department paved the way this week for President Obama to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, with the release of a study that found its construction would not significantly damage the environment. If approved, the $7 billion pipeline proposed by TransCanada would transport oil extracted from the “tar sands” of Alberta, in western Canada, through six U.S. states to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Republican lawmakers and labor unions are united in their support for the 1,700-mile pipeline, claiming it would create between 4,000 and 20,000 new jobs, guarantee domestic oil supply, and ease pressure on gas prices. But environmentalists say its construction would dump huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and accelerate climate change. James Hansen, NASA’s head climate scientist, said the pipeline “would be the first step down the wrong road, perpetuating our addiction to dirty fossil fuels, moving to ever dirtier ones.”
The government study said that while the pipeline would produce annual greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of 626,000 passenger cars, rejecting it would cut Canada’s tar-sands oil production by only 0.4 percent by 2030. The oil, its analysis showed, would reach the market by rail, trucks, and other means. After a 45-day comment period on the State Department recommendation, President Obama will make a final decision on the pipeline.
What the editorials said
Obama must “say no to Keystone XL,” said The Nation. So far, the president has been “all but AWOL” in the battle to slow climate change. But “all is not lost.” Rejecting this pipeline would send an important symbolic message that fossil fuel extraction has no future in a world already suffering devastating extremes of heat and drought. “Humanity is staring down the barrel of a calamity beyond measure, and the president is one of the few people on earth who can do something about it.”
Approving the pipeline is a no-brainer, said The Wall Street Journal. The State Department study makes clear that rejecting it wouldn’t even dent global emission levels. It would, however, deny the U.S. economy 20,000 construction jobs, billions of dollars in tax revenue, and a reliable new oil supply from a friendly neighbor. Do environmentalists really think we can power our economy “on windmills and solar panels”? The activists “ought to pick more important fights,” said The Washington Post. They’ve chosen Keystone as “the premier environmental fight of the decade,” but it will make little difference to how much carbon is burned. Instead, environmentalists should fight for something that really would make a difference—such as a carbon tax.
What the columnists said
“Approving this pipeline is a moral and economic necessity,” said Dennis Prager in NationalReview.com. If built, it would transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day to the U.S., reducing our dependence on oil from unfriendly nations such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia by up to 40 percent. “And if America doesn’t use that oil, China will.”
If Obama approves Keystone, said Michael Grunwald in Time, he will betray those who voted for him—and future generations. “Fossil fuels are broiling the planet, and the pipeline would turn up the heat.” With domestic oil production already booming, we certainly don’t need tar-sands oil. Stopping Keystone isn’t the only way for environmentalists to fight climate change. But “in a war, you don’t always get to choose where to fight.”
No—but you can pick your battles, said Megan McArdle in TheDailyBeast.com. The rising global demand for oil guarantees that the tar sands will be tapped even if Keystone is rejected—and without a pipeline, it will simply be moved by train, truck, and oil tanker, creating even more greenhouse-gas emissions. Stopping Keystone would be a “Pyrrhic symbolic victory.’’ Environmentalists would better serve their cause by chaining themselves to the White House gates to demand a carbon tax or a more aggressive Environmental Protection Agency. This “quixotic crusade” is “not the fight we should be having.”