Obama delays Keystone XL pipeline again

The Keystone XL pipeline would transport oil from the Canadian tar sands. Photo credit: Howl Arts Collective via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

In a move that has put further spotlight on whether the Obama Administration eventually will reject the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial project was again postponed.

The move was met with anger by Republicans and some Democrats but celebrated by environmentalists.

This will further document that the Keystone XL pipeline is the biggest uncertainty in US climate and energy policy. Advocates of the pipeline say that it would create growth and jobs while at the same time reducing America’s oil imports from unfriendly countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Opponents claim that the pipeline would bring climate disaster and the construction of the pipeline would mean game over for the climate. On top of that, the pristine and rich land it crosses is very vulnerable to oil spills and you could point to several tar sands oil spills in Canada as an example. Obama himself has stated that the job creation, which Republicans predict, is largely exaggerated and that the pipeline would only be approved if it was found to not accelerate climate change.

But even within the Obama Administration there are disagreements about the pipeline, with the State Department saying that the pipeline would not speed up climate change. But this is a view opposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Obama has also heralded that the US are quickly moving towards establishing energy independency, as his administration are extracting more oil and gas than any other administration has previously done, and the US are moving away from being a net energy importer to a net energy exporter.

The Keystone XL pipeline debate has been seen as the centerpiece in US climate policy. Campaigners led by 350.org’s Bill McKibben and former NASA scientist, James Hansen, have said that Obama can only be serious about climate change if he is to reject the pipeline.

But questions have been asked why the Keystone XL movement has turned into the largest US climate movement and if it is the right thing to focus on. New York Times Journalist, Coral Davenport, has in a recent article, noted that it is far more important to focus on regulating coal power plants. In an infographic, she explained that total US CO2 emissions (data from 2011) stood at 5.5 billion tons and emissions of the oil from the tar sands, that would move through the Keystone XL pipeline, would only add 18.7 million tons – so in her words ‘it’s only a drop in the ocean’. She says as the US’s power plants are responsible for the emission of 2.8 billion tons it would be far more important for carbon emissions if these power plants were regulated.

Arguments have also been laid out that Obama’s delay of Keystone XL pipeline is entirely political, as the crucial midterm elections are coming up in November. In the elections, the Democrats could lose the Senate and Obama needs all the support he can get. By postponing the decision to after the elections, he hopes to keep onboard both opponents and supporters of the pipeline, as well as the campaign funds of Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer, which are important for Democrats to be successful in the elections. Steyer is one of the largest contributors to the Democratic election campaigns and he tend to back Democrats with an ambitious climate agenda. As an opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama could not afford to run the risk of approving the pipeline and lose the funds of Steyer.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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