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Policy: Environment & Energy

A year later, it's clear Keystone XL has passed Obama's 'climate test'

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Barack Obama,Canada,Climate Change,Keystone XL,Energy and Environment,Oil Sands

One year ago this week, President Obama announced that the Keystone XL pipeline would have to pass a "climate test" in order to be approved. Opponents of the pipeline cheered.

They cheered because the president had just made their chief argument against the pipeline the deciding factor. Yet the climate case against Keystone XL was always based on symbolism, not the facts.

It wasn't long before the consensus was overwhelming that Keystone XL passes the president's climate test -- and with flying colors.

Perhaps the New York Times put it best, reporting, "when it comes to the pipeline's true impact on global warming, energy and climate change experts -- including former Obama administration officials -- say Keystone's political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance … the carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.?

The Times was right. Obama's State Department issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement in January, which found that Keystone XL would have a negligible effect on the environment.

The report concluded that Canadian oil sands would make it to market whether or not Keystone XL was built.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, agreed, telling the Boston Globe, "if there's oil there, someone will find it and use it."

Obama administration officials also weighed in. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Keystone XL is a "win-win" for the economy and the environment and former Obama U.S. Geological Survey chief, Marcia McNutt, said it's "time to move forward" with Keystone XL.

Findings by the leading energy consulting firm IHS CERA have also bolstered the case that Keystone XL would have "no material impact" on greenhouse gas emissions, as the oil sands from Canada would simply replace similar crude coming in from Venezuela.

Further, new data from IHS CERA also shows that, while imports of Canadian oil sands to the United States increased by 75 percent from 2005 through 2012, "the GHG emissions rate for the average crude oil consumed in the United States was unchanged."

If that's not enough, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol said that, while oil sands contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, ?it will be definitely wrong to highlight them as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.?

Michael Levi, energy and environment expert at the Council on Foreign Relations stated: "And despite fears by climate change activists that increased oil sand production has profoundly negative consequences to global warming, Alberta's massive reserve base contributes relatively little to the problem at a global scale."

Even climate scientists have said that the anti-Keystone XL movement has always been about building a climate movement, not about the facts.

David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California noted that "as a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time. But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite."

David Keith, climate scientist at Harvard told Nature: "The extreme statements -- that this is ?game over' for the planet -- are clearly not intellectually true …"

Burton Richter, an emeritus professor at Stanford University and winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, explained that climate arguments against Keystone XL ?make no sense,? adding that ?those opposed to Keystone are trying to mobilize support for a cause, combating climate change. I do support that cause, but will not waste time or effort on things that do no real good.?

With such an overwhelming consensus clearly showing that Keystone XL passes Obama's climate test, it's no wonder that leading editorial boards and columnists are urging the president to approve the pipeline now.

A Washington Post editorial stated, "Environmentalists have drawn a line in the sand on the Keystone XL pipeline. It's the wrong line in the wrong sand, far away from any realistic assessment of the merits -- as yet another government analysis has confirmed. It's past time for President Obama to set aside politics and resolve this bizarre distraction of an issue.?

And, as New York Mag's Jonathan Chait put it, "So, what public policy reason is there to block the pipeline? There really isn't one."

A Nature editorial said, "[R]egarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it.?

A year has passed since Obama announced that his Keystone XL decision hinged on a "finding" that the pipeline would not significantly exacerbate carbon emissions and it could not be clearer that Keystone XL passes this test.

It's long past time for the president to end this absurd political delay and put thousands of Americans back to work building Keystone XL.

Katie Brown is a spokesman for the Oil Sands Fact Check.
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