Lorrie Goldstein: Obama’s Keystone Follies
The thing you have to understand about the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline is that it’s not a fight about reality.
If the issue is reality, then in light of the world’s continuing demand for oil, the Alberta to Gulf Coast pipeline is a relatively safe, environmentally sound method of transporting it.
It’s not perfect, or perfectly safe. No form of energy transportation – consider the Lac-Megantic rail tragedy – is. But it’s better than the alternatives.
The U.S. State Department said as much on Friday, which is the same thing it said in 2011, which is the same thing five assessments of the Keystone XL have said over the past five years in what is starting to resemble the script of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day.
What the State Department is saying, again, is that since Alberta’s oilsands are going to be developed anyway, the Keystone XL is not going to contribute significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it will cause fewer emissions than if the pipeline is scrapped and alternative methods of shipping the oil are employed, such as rail.
That’s the reality. But this isn’t about reality. It’s about politics.
The way the U.S. system works, the final call on Keystone rests with President Barack Obama alone.
Government agencies can comment on it – and more of them will now that the State Department has – but the buck stops with Obama.
Obama has said he has to be convinced Keystone will not contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
Since this is exactly what his own State Department keeps telling him, you would think presidential approval of Keystone would be a slam dunk.
Except it isn’t because Obama, who is starting to resemble Hamlet in his reluctance to make a decision on Keystone, is a contradiction in terms.
Obama talks the talk of the environmental movement, while simultaneously boasting that under his administration U.S. oil, natural gas and coal production is booming along with (ironically) pipeline construction. Except for Keystone.
That’s because Keystone has become the bogeyman used by environmentalists (and their fundraisers) to attack the entire fossil fuel industry.
These people aren’t interested in making Keystone as safe as possible, or limiting its environmental impact as much as possible.
There is no conceivable set of conditions under which the U.S. and Canadian environmental movements will ever approve of Keystone.
There is nothing Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver could say, or do, that would cause them to change their minds about Keystone.
The environmentalists want to kill Keystone by any means necessary, whether through political pressure or court challenges.
Logic has nothing to do with their position because Keystone, and indeed the oilsands, are insignificant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions compared to the real culprit in North America which is U.S. coal.
If logic was involved, environmentalists would be aiming their fire squarely at U.S. coal production and the fact that under Obama, American coal exports – the dirtiest fossil fuel – have reached record levels.