For months I’ve had a gut feeling that President Obama will eventually say no to the Keystone XL pipeline, shutting down the project when the State Department’s final recommendation hits his desk.
Now, today, I feel confident enough to commit to a prediction: President Obama will reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
His public pronouncements of late make the call a pretty secure one. Speaking of KXL’s potential impact, he has previously laughed off conservatives’ claim that the pipeline will create jobs, and he’s been critical of the environmental threat tar sands oil poses both in the mining process and as it’s transported.
But recently, he’s really ratcheted up the talk about climate change. Here, he makes it the center point of his pre-Earth Day weekly address.
This is an issue that’s bigger and longer-lasting than my presidency. It’s about protecting our God-given natural wonders, and the good jobs that rely on them. It’s about shielding our cities and our families from disaster and harm. It’s about keeping our kids healthy and safe. This is the only planet we’ve got. And years from now, I want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to protect it.
Then on Earth Day itself, he traveled to Florida, which, as we’ve discussed here previously, faces a serious, catastrophic threat from the rising sea levels that climate change will bring. Eric Holthaus at Slate details how havoc is already knocking on the Sunshine State’s front door.
Right now, South Florida is in the midst of a record-setting springtime heat wave. A nearly 2,000-acre wildfire has been burning this week on the outskirts of the Everglades in the face of the summerlike temperatures. Earlier this year, cars floated through Miami streets as the city bore 10 inches of rain in just a few hours.
But it doesn’t even take rain to flood Miami these days—a high tide on a clear day in October 2012 produced a bigger flood than a hurricane that hit just 13 years earlier.According to an analysis of tide gauge data by Brian McNoldy, a meteorologist at the University of Miami, the pace of sea level rise in South Florida has more than quadrupled over the last five years compared with the previous 15. Climate change is already changing Florida, and it’s happening fast.
Speaking from Everglades National Park, Obama lambasted Florida’s Tea Party governor Rick Scott for his laughable climate change gag rule: “Climate change can no longer be denied. It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation. And action can no longer be delayed. [...] Simply refusing to say the words ‘climate change’ doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t happening.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, whose final recommendation will precede the president’s, has similarly spoken out about climate change. He has called it “the greatest challenge of our generation,” said that it “ranks right up there with [terrorism, epidemics, poverty and proliferation of WMDs],” and constitutes “the most serious challenge we face on the planet because it’s about the planet itself.”
(Though conservatives squawked about the claim that climate change is a bigger problem than terrorism, their go-to fear trigger, the data support Kerry.)
Casual observers might point out that Kerry’s State Department issued the report that says Keystone XL is not a threat to increase climate change. But savvier readers know that the report’s climate change conclusion is based on a circular argument, that the tar sands will be developed with or without KXL, despite tar sands producers’ claims that they need pipelines to make development profitable. They’ll also note that the report was not written by the State Department, but rather a contractor with undisclosed, longstanding business dealings with TransCanada.
Kerry also is a longtime environmentalist with an impressive history of advocacy around climate change. It’s entirely possible, one could say even likely, that he’ll buck his own agency’s report and recommend rejecting KXL.
But the decision lies ultimately in the president’s hands. He has already pledged that he will not approve the pipeline if it exacerbates carbon emissions. Which it most certainly will, considering the amount of energy needed to mine, process, refine, and transport it, and that’s before you get to the pollution from burning it, and the pet coke that comes with it. Even the EPA says so, in its scathing reply to the State Department report.
That alone should be enough to push the president to reject KXL, if he’s taking the carbon issue and climate change seriously. And if we can trust Luther, his “anger translator,” this is no joke.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the fight is over. Big Oil has spent tens of millions of dollars to buy approval for Keystone XL. Their man in Ottawa and his Canadian government have spent millions more. They want KXL, and they’re going to fight like cornered rats to get it.
And they’re not just relying on KXL. They have plans for several other pipelines, and TransCanada is already looking for another pipeline between North Dakota and Saskatchewan. And Enbridge– the folks who brought you the five-year, $1.2 billion Kalamazoo River spill– is pushing to expand Line 61, which runs through Superior, Wisconsin, to carry 1.2 million barrels per day. That’s 30 percent more than Keystone XL. NRDC’s Danielle Droitsch calls it a “tar sands invasion,” and one that frequently targets economically distressed communities, but reminds us it “can be stopped.
Even if Obama rejects KXL, and there’s every reason to believe he will, the pipeline struggle carries on.