With the State Department’s final environmental assessment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline complete, major public figures are starting to weigh in before a decision is made on whether or not to approve the project.
Keystone XL is a 1,700-mile pipeline that will bring hundreds of thousands of tar sands crude from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to be refined. Producing crude from tar sands is the most energy and carbon intensive form of oil extraction – a process that environmental groups have called “the biggest global warming crime ever seen.”
Along with climate scientist James Hansen and the Center for American Progress, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Nebraska GOP governor Dave Heineman issued their opinions on the impact of the pipeline this week.
And their responses aren’t what you might think.
In an interview with EnergyNOW! at the National Clean Energy Summit, Steven Chu explained that the pipeline was a “tradeoff.” While he didn’t explicitly throw his support behind the project, he did say that companies extracting tar sands “are making great strides in improving the environmental impact of the extraction of this oil.”
However, the Canadian government expects carbon emissions from Alberta’s tar sands to double by 2020, cancelling out any emissions reductions that could come from developing renewable energy in the country by that time.
Directly after taping that interview at the summit, Chu explained in a brief conversation with Climate Progress that he believes that the fossil fuel industry has “an interest in seeing that action isn’t taken” on climate change and lamented the lack of understanding of climate science among political leaders.
“It saddens me. And I think as a scientist you have to re-double your efforts,” said Chu.
So which is it? Climate activists like Bill McKibben and James Hansen say that support of the Keystone pipeline “would be game over for the climate.” But Chu’s comments on the Keystone pipeline suggest that he would allow the pipeline to be built.
The Energy Secretary doesn’t have the final say though. That’s up to the President and Department of State (DOS), which will issue a decision on the pipeline sometime before the end of the year.
Last week, the DOS issued a third environmental review of the pipeline that found “no significant impacts” to the environment, despite the massive increase in carbon emissions and the fact that the pipeline will cross numerous major aquifers.
Now, one concerned Republican governor is criticizing DOS for glossing over the potential impact to major water sources. In a letter issued to President Obama and Secretary Clinton, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who says he is not opposed to pipelines generally, wrote:
I am writing to you today regarding a very important issue to the State of Nebraska and to our citizens — the Keystone XL Pipeline. I am opposed to the proposed route of this pipeline. The Final Environmental Impact Statement compares a potential spill in the Sand Hills region to a 1979 Bemidji, Minnesota spill and concludes that “the impacts to shallow groundwater from a spill of a similar volume in the Sand Hills region would affect a limited area of the aquifer around the spill site.” I disagree with this analysis, and I believe that the pipeline should not cross a substantial portion of the Ogallala Aquifer.
Therefore, I am asking you to disapprove TransCanada’s pending permit request. Do not allow TransCanada to build a pipeline over the Ogallala Aquifer and risk the potential damage to Nebraska’s water.
A diverse number of groups concerned about the local and global environmental impacts of the pipeline continue to weigh in during the 90-day comment period before the decision is made by the State Department.
While the last two weeks of protest in front of the White House have given the issue a higher profile, many are expecting the pipeline to be approved. Especially when public officials like Steven Chu, who have previously been outspoken on climate change, are implicitly backing the project.