After avoiding the topic of climate change throughout his second presidential bid, Barack Obama renewed his commitment to the climate in his first news conference following his re-election.
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions,” he said. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
If Obama believes what he said, he’s got a clear choice in front of him at the very beginning of his second term. He needs to reject — once and for all — the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry viscous tar sands petroleum from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s up to Obama to stop the pipeline.
And it’s not a terribly difficult decision. Releasing the carbon from the Canadian tar sands into our atmosphere is a climate disaster waiting to happen. But even beyond the climate argument, it should be hard for the president to argue that it’s important to allow a foreign corporation — TransCanada — to bisect our country with the longest oil pipeline in the Western Hemisphere. This project puts Americans’ land and water at risk of damaging oil spills, while gaining very little for the American people in benefits like jobs and energy security.
The pipeline’s proponents tend to exaggerate its meager benefits.
For example, estimates of jobs this project would create range only from a high of about 20,000 (TransCanada’s estimate) to as low as 5,000 (the State Department). Even TransCanada acknowledges that its figure includes 13,000 temporary jobs, according to a formula that counts one person working for two years as two jobs. By comparison, the low-impact extension of the wind-energy Production Tax Credit passed as part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations is projected to create and maintain far more clean-energy jobs — up to 54,000 of them.
The pipeline would advance U.S. energy security even less than job creation.
TransCanada can sell its oil — a global commodity — into the global market as it sees fit, which is why the pipeline terminates at a port in the Gulf of Mexico. This oil won’t necessarily stay in the United States. Even if it did, Canadian tar sands petroleum can’t “reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” It is foreign oil. Meanwhile, with both U.S. renewable energy production and oil drilling on the rise under Obama, we’ve already reduced our oil imports by around 1 million gallons a day (or 10 percent) between 2010 and 2011. We can continue lowering oil imports and increasing energy security without the risks of the Keystone pipeline.
In that first post-election press conference, as the East Coast began its recovery from Superstorm Sandy, Obama acknowledged “an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America,” as well as the acceleration of polar ice caps melting and global temperature rise. He took pride in the rise in fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks during his first term, and also acknowledged that “we haven’t done as much as we need to.”
This is Obama’s chance to do much, much more.
Tar sands oil is so much dirtier than conventional crude that Obama’s own EPA calculated that a full-capacity Keystone XL pipeline will add as much as 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere annually. That’s the equivalent of adding 6.2 million more cars to our roads. So much for those new fuel-economy standards.
The damages of the Keystone pipeline will far outweigh its benefits. Obama should reject the Keystone pipeline at the start of his second term.