Elected Leaders Try to Push Through With the Keystone XL Pipeline, But New Report Reassesses The True Climate Impact

  A Keystone XL Pipeline pumping station in rural Nebraska

  (Photo by shannonpatrick17 / CC BY 2.0)


President Obama is due to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline later this year, but in the meantime, some members of Congress have decided to take matters into their own hands. As the deadline for the Keystone XL pipeline decision inches closer, the predictable political battles are being fought.

Lately, some parties have been punting a bill assigned a high-priority H.R.3 status and called ‘The Northern Route Approval Act’ that could force approval of the pipeline without presidential input, E&E News reports. This week, House committees supported the bill, and today they gathered to mark it up. But alongside the discussions that led to this widespread support, a hearing took place in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s hearing room, where one spokesman aired findings from a key report, released yesterday, that challenges assumptions made by the State Department and the pro-pipeline faction.

Steve Kretzmann, founder and executive director of an anti-fossil fuel organization called Oil Change International (OCI), was the spokesman for these findings, put out by OCI. He was the only Keystone XL critic permitted to testify. The other speakers were three pipeline advocates from the oil, engineering, and manufacturing industries.

The pipeline advocates argued that whether Keystone surged ahead or not, the oil sands in Alberta would be exploited, meaning that Keystone would have no real bearing on climate impact. Kretzmann directly challenged the notion with his organization’s findings, which were released with the support of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups.

The report, called ‘Cooking the Books’, finds that the State Department’s estimations earlier this year of ‘insignificant’ climate impacts from the pipeline were ill conceived, because they mistakenly suggested that tar sands will be exploited regardless of the Keystone pipeline. The report counters:

“Destruction of the Alberta Boreal forest and development of the tar sands are not inevitable. Without Keystone XL, with strong and growing opposition to other tar sands pipelines, and with continued decline in US oil demand, America simply does not need this extreme source of oil.”

The testimony demonstrates that there aren’t other suitably reliable forms of transport for Alberta’s oil. “It’s increasingly clear that without Keystone XL, the tar sands will not be able to expand at such a reckless pace,” said Elizabeth Shope, of the NRDC, during a conference call with the media as reported by Scientific American.

The report goes on to show that Keystone XL would release 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year if it gets approved. “When evaluating this project, the State Department should apply a simple test: Does its completion bring the U.S. closer to meeting its climate goals? The answer is clearly no, and therefore the project must be denied,” Kretzmann said in the publication news release.

Before his appearance at the hearing yesterday, Kretzmann said he planned to call attention to the finding that only 35 permanent jobs would result from the pipeline, as shown by the State Department’s report. He also spoke about the miscommunicated notion that America was going to benefit economically from the extracted oil. In fact, his organization shows that the oil will likely be turned into diesel, then exported to other countries like Latin America, where it will reap more profits than it will in the U.S. “It’s fundamentally wrong to say that the pipeline would give America energy security,” Kretzmann said to E&E News.

Despite this critique, proponents of the pro-Keystone bill say they hope to get it to the House of Representatives for a decision before Memorial Day on May 27. Kretzmann’s appearance during the hearing yesterday symbolizes the ongoing tension between advocates and critics—one that’s unlikely to waver as the bill moves forward. E&E News reports that during the hearing, Kretzmann was repeatedly challenged by Representative Markwayne Mullin, a Keystone XL supporter, who asked him “How did you get here today?” suggesting that the activist relied on fossil fuels as much as anyone else. Kretzmann replied, “I walked.”

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