Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Keystone Pipeline: Opposing View-Points

Story first appeared in USA Today -

Build Keystone Pipeline: Our View

More than four years of exhaustive study is enough. Stop the foot-dragging.

Many controversial issues lend themselves to split-the-difference compromises, but the Keystone XL pipeline isn't one of them. That puts President Obama in a tough spot as his administration nears a decision on the proposed $7 billion project, which would carry tar-sand oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

For the environmentalists who strongly supported Obama's re-election, Keystone has become a crucial test of his promises to take climate change seriously. Thousands demonstrated in Washington on Sunday against the project, asserting that the pipeline would unlock so much dirty oil that it would be "game over" for the globe if the project proceeds.

For Canada, whose government badly wants the pipeline to go forward, the decision is an equally crucial test of the two neighbors' relationship. And for the United States, the project offers a rare opportunity to create jobs and lessen the nation's decades-long dependence on oil from unstable or unfriendly suppliers.

Both sides make strong arguments, but after more than four years of exhaustive study, the right answer on Keystone remains: Build it.

At a time of rising global competition for energy resources, the pipeline would bring reliable new oil supplies to a U.S. that still imports 40% of its crude, 7.6 million barrels a day last year. And 40% of those imports come from OPEC nations such as Venezuela, Iraq and Nigeria. Keystone is expected to supply 830,000 million barrels a day, a key step toward the long-sought goal of North American energy independence, which suddenly seems attainable.

Much of the opposition to Keystone has come from critics who say running a big pipeline through the heart of the USA is too risky. Haven't they noticed that tens of thousands of miles of oil pipelines already crisscross the United States? As long as the nation's quarter-billion vehicles rely almost exclusively on gasoline and diesel, pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move it.

Obama delayed a final decision on Keystone last year, in part to allow a rerouting around environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska. That has been accomplished, and Nebraska's governor signed off on the new map last month.

Nor would blocking Keystone keep the tar-sands oil in the ground. In a world starving for oil, it's overwhelmingly likely the oil would find another way to market — through a pipeline to West Coast ports to carry it to China, to East Coast ports to carry it to other nations, or by barge, rail and existing pipelines into the USA.

The goal of locking down tar-sands oil and stopping other forms of fossil fuel production such as fracking — as many protesters demanded in Sunday's demonstration — would be more compelling if the U.S. were ready to shift to renewable fuels such as solar, wind and biomass to power vehicles, heat homes and run factories. Last year, though, renewables supplied just 9.4% of all U.S. energy needs, despite robust tax incentives for wind power and electric cars. Shutting down conventional sources of energy at this point is naive and economically destructive.

Demand might be further reduced by making vehicles and buildings more efficient. A carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system could do the same by making the price of conventional fuels better reflect their cost to the environment.

Until that day, though, the best choice for the economy and the planet is to ensure ample, secure supplies of energy. The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of that strategy.


Pipeline Project Defines Folly: Opposing View

Keystone will prolong our addiction to fossil fuels and damage the climate.

A year ago, President Obama sent the Keystone pipeline project back for more review. In the months since, Mother Nature filed compelling public testimony:

  • The hottest year in American history.
  • An epic drought that drove up the price of food worldwide.
  • Superstorm Sandy, with the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras.
  • An Arctic melt so intense that NASA scientists said we faced a "planetary emergency."

Those abrupt and extreme changes in the planet's patterns demonstrate the stupidity of prolonging our addiction to fossil fuel, which is exactly what Keystone will do.

By providing a new and easy way to access the "dirtiest oil on earth," the pipeline will drive the expansion of tar-sands production. It is the definition of folly.

Its proponents have always claimed it will create lots of jobs (it will create some, for a couple of years, which is nothing to sneeze at — but the real jobs bonanza comes when we move decisively toward renewable energy) or boost energy independence (which is nonsense — this oil is destined for export). By easing the glut of Canadian oil, even its backers concede, it will raise, not lower, gas prices.

But the biggest argument for Keystone has always been: If we don't take the oil, someone else will. The oil barons boasted a year ago that they would build a pipeline to the Pacific instead — but people across Canada have risen up to block that plan, which is now all but dead.

That same kind of movement has arisen in the United States, where Keystone has become the first environmental issue in a generation to bring Americans into the streets and jails.

Sunday, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the largest climate rally in U.S. history took direct aim at the pipeline. As the Rev. Lennox Yearwood said, "This is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century," when activism can help decide the future.

And should President Obama reject the pipeline, he'd be the first world leader to block a big infrastructure project because of the damage to the climate.

That's a legacy — the only one people will care about in the decades ahead.