Keystone foes to fight on after government downplays climate risk

Fight against Keystone XL to intensify after government report says US-Canada pipeline won’t increase emissions


By John McGarrity

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have stepped up their campaign after a State Department report on Friday downplayed impact of the project on climate change.

Supporters say the report increases the likelihood of approval by President Obama, who has the final say in whether the project can go ahead.

The final environmental review said the Canada-US oil pipeline would not greatly increase carbon emissions because oil sands in Alberta would be developed anyway and use other forms of transport such as tankers and rail.

But campaigners vowed to use the courts, civil disobedience and political pressure ahead of November’s Congressional elections to get the pipeline blocked.

“Keystone XL continues to fail all the tests that President Obama has said it must pass. It clearly fails the climate test that he laid out last summer, because every major climate change expert has concluded that it would significantly exacerbate climate change,” said Ken Winston, a spokesman for US green group Sierra Club in Nebraska.

There, the pipeline is particularly frought because landowners fear the impact it might have on supplies from North America’s largest source of groundwater, but others in the state are keen for the project to proceed because it will create jobs and raise revenues.

The pipeline has become an emotive political issue in North America, with Canadian musician Neil Young telling reporters that Keystone XL is a “terrible idea”.

“This fuel is going to China, which is probably the dirtiest place on the planet,” Young said before a concert in Winnipeg.

But researchers think that if Keystone is built, most of the oil exports from tar sands are more likely to go to Europe.

A report in January by the National Resources Defense Council said that US approval for Keystone could drive up Europe’s carbon emissions by 32 million tonnes a year after 2020 if the bloc discontinues a threshold on the carbon footprint of imported oil, which presently rules out oil from Canada’s tar sands.

Critics of Canada’s tar sands say the process is a ‘carbon bomb’ that will triple emissions to 100 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year from 2030,  meaning Canada won’t be able to commit to tough climate targets.

Billionaire Tom Steyer, a Democratic Party donor and a high profile opponent of Keystone XL, called on US Secretary of State John Kerry to review  “defective” analysis on the pipeline published by the State Department last week.

“How can the foreign companies who stand to financially benefit from the approval of the KXL pipeline assert that the pipeline is the key to their ability to develop the tar sands without these assertions being considered material to this report?” Steyer wrote in a letter to Kerry.


Supporters of Keystone said the State Department report should encourage President Obama to give swift approval to the pipeline.

“This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “So, Mr. President, no more stalling – no more excuses.”

Obama said last year that permission for the project could be withheld if it “significantly” increased emissions.

Over the next 30 days, John Kerry will evaluate the State Department report, while state agencies and the public will have almost three months to weigh in with their opinions.

After that, the decision is Obama’s alone, but the issue is highly divisive within his Democratic Party, with several senators and governors voicing support for pipeline ahead of mid-term elections.

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