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Is Keystone XL DOA in Term No. 2?

There are no more campaign promises to make -- and there's an incoming secretary of State who makes environmentalists hurrah.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

January 8, 2013 - 5:08 pm

With the campaign and its associated vote-reaping rhetoric behind him, President Obama may now feel it’s time to kill the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all.

At least that’s what environmental groups are gunning for — and what Obama’s secretary of State nominee would be happy to do.

The Canada-to-Gulf pipeline cleared a major hurdle Friday when Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a report finding that the pipeline’s route through the state would carry “minimal” risks to the environment.

Obama frequently used Nebraska’s concerns about the pipeline route as the reason for last year’s rejection of the project in the face of a congressional deadline. Now, the Republican governor of the state, Dave Heineman, has less than a month to make a final recommendation based on the report’s findings.

That includes noting Keystone XL will bring $418.1 million in economic benefits to the state and is expected to have no impact on water quality.

Heineman has been an opponent of the pipeline in the past, but a new route that addressed previous environmental concerns could have the White House scrambling for a new excuse.

TransCanada, the company behind Keystone, said it worked with Nebraskans to arrive at the solutions detailed in the approved report.

“The re-route ensures Keystone XL will have minimal environmental impact by avoiding the area defined as the Nebraska Sandhills, crossing fewer miles of threatened and endangered species habitat and considerably fewer miles of erodible soils. It also moves the route to the down-slope side of two wellhead protection areas,” said Russell Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer.

“Over the past year, support for Keystone XL has continued to grow in Nebraska and across the United States,” he added. “Safety remains our top priority. We will maintain a Nebraska-based emergency preparedness program with a response team in place, ready to react should an incident occur. The safety of the entire pipeline is our responsibility for as long as it operates. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”

More than 70 environmental groups, though, wrote Obama yesterday to urge that he take his responsibility to kill the pipeline seriously.

The green groups pointed out the president’s post-Sandy vows to tackle climate change in his second term.

“Climate change is not a hoax. More drought and floods and hurricanes and wildfires are not a joke,” Obama said just after his election in Chicago. “They’re a threat to our children’s future. And we can do something about it.”

The groups — including Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and League of Conservation Voters — specifically urge the president to “use your executive authority” in enacting new regulations.

“You have the authority under existing law to achieve urgently needed reductions in the carbon pollution that is disrupting our climate and damaging our health. Most significantly, you can set standards that cut carbon pollution from America’s aging power plant fleet at least 25 percent by 2020 while boosting energy efficiency and shifting to clean energy sources. Power plants are our largest source of carbon pollution and you have the authority and responsibility to clean them up under the Clean Air Act,” states the letter. “This will create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, meet the pollution targets you set for the country, and restore U.S. international leadership.”

In asking that the president who touted his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy on the campaign ditch “dirty fuels,” the environmentalists ask him to heed the advice of climate scientists who say “80 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves need to be kept in the ground.”

“More specifically, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest because it would unlock vast amounts of additional carbon that we can’t afford to burn, extend our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, endanger health and safety, and put critical water resources at risk,” they write.

If Obama kills Keystone, he’ll be able to pass the bulk of the blame onto someone who would happily take the heat from oil and gas companies — and the many members of the public who believe that nixing Keystone means killing jobs.

A southern portion of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico, has long since been approved (and touted by Obama as proof of his friendliness to fossil fuels). But the yet-to-be-approved segment crosses the border from Canada — meaning that approval goes through the State Department.

And set to take over from the retiring Hillary Clinton, barring any unexpected nomination block, is Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Kerry, who’s occupied much of the Senate floor schedule with extensive monologues about the dangers of global warming. Kerry, who’s lauded as a “champion for climate issues” by the same groups lobbying Obama to bury Keystone.

The State Department is finalizing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), due any day now, on the Keystone project. The administration could use any number of means — waiting on Nebraska, finding the need for additional reviews, etc. — to delay a final decision.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry in an October 2011 statement vowed to “leave no question unanswered including every possible economic and environmental consideration before a final decision is made” on Keystone.

Some liberals are suspicious considering that TransCanada hired lobbyists linked to Clinton, Obama, and Kerry in its 2011 push for the pipeline.

But in 2013, the re-election campaign is done and those weak links would likely have little impact on the president’s drive to script a legacy to his liking.

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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