Energy & Environment

An uncertain year ahead for the Keystone XL pipeline

An uncertain year ahead for the Keystone XL pipeline

The CEO of TransCanada Corporation, Russ Girling, is “very confident” his Keystone XL pipeline project will finally be approved by President Obama next year, according to the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch blog:

“I remain very confident. It’s a very important project” and the safest way to move oil to the U.S., Girling said. “I remain 100% confident this project makes sense for energy security and all the jobs and economic benefits that come with it,” he added.

Girling was asked what he’d say to Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund executive and environmental activist from California who has led a campaign against Keystone on grounds it would increase greenhouse gases and accelerate climate change.

TransCanada understands “the drive to a less carbon intense energy future,” but the opposition to Keystone “is likely to produce the exact opposite,” Girling said. Denying the pipeline just leads to potentially more emissions and more cost since the Alberta oil-sands production would be shipped by railroad.

That is a rather good point, isn’t it?  There is no scenario in which Canada leaves all that oil in the ground, and no reason the world should want them to.  It’s going to move eventually, and it would be best for America if it moved here, through the safe and efficient Keystone pipeline.

Unfortunately, Girling is just about the only one who seems confident the pipeline will get across the U.S. border.  President Obama has been slow-walking the project into oblivion, trying to please his environmentalist supporters without taking the political hit for killing it outright.  The latest development in this profile in presidential courage is word that the project’s environmental review might be restarted – a move that would almost certainly delay the pipeline past the midterm elections, to the relief of imperiled Democrats, and quite possibly beyond the end of Obama’s term in office.

The Washington Times explains the situation:

“I’ve been of the mind that there’s no way it makes any kind of sense [for the president to avoid a decision on Keystone]. But it’s been well over five years and yet he keeps proving me wrong,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research. “In my experience, a lot of times what happens is the way that the environmental community works, and the political community aligned with them, they will put all kinds of speed bumps in the way [of a project] and when the car falls apart because it takes one more speed bump they say, ‘Look at that. The car couldn’t make it.’”

The latest “speed bump” for Keystone, which would transport Canadian oil sands south from Alberta through the U.S. heartland to refineries on the Gulf Coast, centers on what some have called conflicts of interest involving the State Department’s lengthy review of the project.

State must conduct analyses of the $7 billion pipeline because it crosses an international boundary.

To do that, the department contracted with leading environmental consulting firm Environmental Resources Management. A draft environmental study of Keystone largely was favorable, finding no significant uptick in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the project while determining that the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs.

But since that draft was released in March, Environmental Resources Management and the State Department’s overall process have come under fire. Critics — led by environmental groups and key House Democrats such as Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona — point to the fact that Environmental Resources Management is a member company of groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, that have publicly and aggressively lobbied for Keystone to be built.

The State Department already conducted an investigation and found no conflicts of interest, but now they’re going to investigate again.  I sure hope nobody ever calls for such scrutiny into conflicts of interest within the “green energy” industry.  Imagine how messy that would get!  Why, we’d probably never get another windmill built.

Say, is anyone miffed at the State Department for ostensibly botching the original probe into conflicts of interest, requiring a new effort that will delay the Keystone pipeline at a cost running into hundreds of millions of dollars?  Who was the Secretary of State back then?  I sure hope that person never thinks about running for higher office.  The American taxpayer cannot afford such incompetence.

So now the investigation of the investigation will grind along for at least a few more months, and until it’s finished the State Department won’t release its final environmental impact study, so President Obama doesn’t have to make any decisions.  If the new investigation does turn up some conflicts of interest, the entire impact study process will most likely be rebooted, and years will pass… during which time the Canadians will probably give up trying to sell their oil to America, while the Empty Chair claims it’s not his fault, nothing he could do, so very sorry – enjoy the oil, Asia!

“I’ve been of the mind that there’s no way it makes any kind of sense [for the president to avoid a decision on Keystone]. But it’s been well over five years and yet he keeps proving me wrong,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research. “In my experience, a lot of times what happens is the way that the environmental community works, and the political community aligned with them, they will put all kinds of speed bumps in the way [of a project] and when the car falls apart because it takes one more speed bump they say, ‘Look at that. The car couldn’t make it.’”

[...] On Dec. 19, a three-member review panel recommended that the Canadian government approve a pipeline west to the Pacific Coast, allowing oil to be shipped to burgeoning markets in Asia.

That development, among others, could make Keystone a less-attractive project from an economic perspective, Mr. Kish said.

For Mr. Obama, it also would carry clear political benefits.

“He could say, ‘Hey, I didn’t do that. It was a failure of the market system,’” Mr. Kish said. “I’ve seen this over several decades with these environmental battles. First they say you need to study it, to do this and to do that. It delays it, delays it, delays it. And all of a sudden the project becomes uneconomic or they have sent a political signal to the market that they ought to back out.”

Another ominous development, as noted by Rep. Terry Lee (R-NB) at CNBC, is that Obama’s new adviser, old-time Clinton hatchet man John Podesta, is “a devoted opponent to the Keystone XL pipeline.”

He characterized Republican efforts to move the president towards supporting the pipeline’s completion as a “horrible error.” He helped organize the anti-Keystone campaign funded by billionaire activist Tom Steyer. While the State Department conducted a draft environmental impact review revealing popular liberal doctrine was wrong and the pipeline would have no impact on climate change, Podesta suggested a “fair review” would reveal different results.

It’s nice to know the President’s new right-hand man doesn’t believe the State Department is fair.

Be that as it may, what does it say that this administration spent more than three years and $600 million building a website that didn’t work—but for some reason, can’t in five years determine whether it’s in our nation’s interest to build a pipeline that will secure our energy independence, create jobs and strengthen our relationship with our nation’s number one trading partner.

Supposedly Podesta will recuse himself from Keystone decision-making, a promise Rep. Lee finds “laughable.”

These are tough times for radical greens, as the global warming hoax falls apart (and freezes!)  Ben Geman at National Journal speculates they might not be able to handle the defeat that would be represented by a green light for the Keystone pipeline, opposition to which has been a “movement-builder” that drew young activists into rallies and protests:

Here’s something to watch in 2014: the collective psyche of the green movement.

If President Obama green-lights the Keystone pipeline, the movement will face questions about its tactics and goals at a level unseen since major climate-change legislation collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010.

“If the pipeline is approved, it’s a defeat for 350.org, Sierra Club, et al, with no real strategy for what comes next,” said Alex Trembath, a policy analyst with the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank whose founders have often criticized movement tactics.

Whatever the decision, it will be a defining moment for a movement that has had its ups and downs under Obama.

After the 2010 climate-bill defeat, some analysts and activists wondered whether several big green groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, had launched a tactically shaky campaign that required too many concessions before failing outright.

Among the criticisms of the cap-and-trade campaign: too much hope that a few Senate Republicans would come along (they didn’t); an inside-Congress strategy without enough outside pressure; and too much footsie with big corporate players.

Some of the same kind of soul-searching will occur if (and it’s only an “if”) Obama approves Keystone, a decision that’s likely to come in 2014.

No price is too high to make other people pay for this movement’s rigid ideology, but they might have invested too much emotional effort into blocking a project that made as much economic and environmental sense as Keystone.  They turned it into a battle they cannot afford to lose, and contrary to the more confident predictions from some greens quoted in the National Journal story, it’s hard to see what else they’ve got going for them.  What else would the young activists who signed up to protest Keystone stick around for, if President Obama invalidates all their efforts by approving the project, retroactively making them feel like dupes of the green leadership?  There’s going to be a lot of pressure within the State Department to give Obama bureaucratic cover for avoiding that decision.

 

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