Keystone XL Decision Will Define Barack Obama’s Climate Legacy

The Guardian Environment Blog is giving two new bloggers a chance. They both deserve a shout out.

John Abraham, a University of St. Thomas scientist with the Clmate Science Rapid Response Team, has a column whose headline I borrowed. Here’s an excerpt:

But do the tar sands really matter that much? The answer is clearly yes. Alberta has 1.8tn barrels of oil contained within the tar sands. Extracting and burning all of that tar will cause a global temperature increase of about 0.4oC (0.7oF). That is about half of the warming that humans have already caused. For perspective, according to a recent study, the amount of oil-in-place in the Alberta tar sands is approximately seven times that of Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves.

But wait, it gets worse. One of the byproducts of tar-sand extraction is a substance that is like coal … only dirtier. That byproduct, petroleum coke (affectionately called Petcoke), emits more carbon dioxide than even coal.

Click here to read the rest.

And Dana Nuccitelli, one of our favorite Skeptical Science bloggers, has a column on Kansas and renewables:

Is the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’ willing to sacrifice the economic benefits of clean energy for the sake of the coal industry?

To date, 29 states in the US have set standards requiring a certain percentage of electricity production to be met by renewable sources. Soon that number may fall to 28.

In 2009, Kansas passed legislation establishing a renewable energy standard requiring 10% of the state’s electricity production to come from renewable sources by 2010, and 20% by 2020. The state, the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, met the 2010 requirements by exploiting its wind powerpotential, which is second only to Texas in the US.

Republican congressman Dennis Hedke, the chairman of the Kansas Congressional joint committee on energy and environmental policy –who has ties to the oil and gas industry – arranged for his committee to hear arguments to delay or eliminate these requirements. This Thursday, the commitee has its final hearing on the subject.

Click here to read the rest.

Here’s hoping they both become regulars.

19 Responses to Keystone XL Decision Will Define Barack Obama’s Climate Legacy

  1. BobbyL says:

    I hope his climate legacy is defined by getting a scientifically meaningful legally binding agreement that includes all countries to limit CO2 emissions. If global warming is a tragedy of the commons situation as it appears to be the only way out is a global cap on carbon.

  2. Ed Leaver says:

    Quite so. The objective is to emit drastically less CO2. In what ways would the President’s veto of Keystone XL further that objective, and in what ways would it hinder?

  3. Camburn says:

    President Obama’s decision one way or the other will have very little impact on Tar Sands production in Canada.

  4. Ed Leaver says:

    So how much political capital need the President punt to prove a Pyhrric point? How would a Keystone XL veto further a carbon tax or cap? Where’s the legacy?

  5. Camburn says:

    In my humble opinion, if President Obama vetoes the Keystone XL, the chance of a carbon tax ever passing the Senate OR the House will be never.

    In fact, if he vetoes it, the chances of research dollars being approved for alternative fuels will be about zero as well.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    As things stand – no chance of any Carbon restriction in the House or the Senate – vetoing the XL expansion would result in a significant increase in the amount of tar sands being mined being significantly delayed.

    Figuring we have about 10-15 years till nature runs off with things (feedbacks etc. start to really kick in) this delay is actually quite crucial – assuming we decide to save the climate for future generations.

    As another author pointed out previously, after looking at the situation you come to realize we don’t have time to fruck around and if nothing need to stop making the situation worse – the Keystone XL makes the situation worse.

    From a purely “today” political standpoint, Obama’s easy choice is to approve it and take a victory lap there, before taking a victory lap for tightening coal power plant emissions requirements several years down the road.

  7. Sasparilla says:

    Camburn, with the GOP totally in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and their lackies at this point (i.e. opposed to both those things anyways) I don’t see how an XL veto would change a thing with regards to the Senate or House – no carbon tax or cap is going through either of those bodies regardless of what happens with the XL (the chance was in 2009 and Obama willingly squandered it).

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I think the whole world has its fingers crossed on that one, ME

  9. Camburn says:

    You perhaps are not familiar with the increase in railroad shipments of oil.

    You may also not be familiar with the fact that 150,000 barrels per day of Bakken oil that the Keystone XL would be used for.

    China now owns approx 33% of the Tar Sands. It is funding CP to build more tanker cars. This is the preferred way to ship tar sands oil if you are an oil company.

    The Keystone XL being approved nor not approved will not cause much of a change in output of tar sands.

  10. Jacob says:

    Ten to fifteen years? We should be so lucky.

  11. David Goldstein says:

    Yep- that is also my guess as to how it plays out; Obama will approve and ‘co-announce’ a positive for green energy. Some people will be outraged, but not enough to make a difference. The best that can come out of it, I am guessing, is that some ‘middle of the road’ climate folks will become a bit more radicalized.

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    I believe that you are mistaken. Shipping oil by rail is cost effective for the Bakken, but not for Alberta Tar Sands oil, which is expensive and marginally profitable anyway. Pipeline transportation is much cheaper, which is why oil lobbyists in DC are fighting for it so fiercely.

    We need to discourage the rape of the Athabaska watershed for many reasons. Your cavalier attitude here is troubling.

  13. If Obama approves Keystone he’ll loose all credibility on climate issues no matter what incremental steps he takes thereafter. An “All of the above,” energy policy might work for the Powers that Be, but it is clearly insufficient to deal with the climate crisis. Climate hawks know that, and their stomachs turn if Keystone is approved. I know mine will.

  14. prokaryotes says:

    John Abraham is also an excellent climate science messenger, Peter Sinclair featured him several times on his blog.

  15. Ed Leaver says:

    Mike: Pipelines can indeed transport oil from one point to another cheaper than rail — provided the pipeline exists and the other point is in fact where you want it. Please see No Keystone XL? Big Oil will just take the train and The Alternative To Keystone XL Pipeline: Ship The Oil By Rail. I wish it were otherwise. But even without rail, Canada has some 5 additional existing pipeline alternatives to KXL. Yes, they would need be expanded, upgraded, or reversed. And the heavy-oil refinery facilities on the Gulf Coast are indeed attractive. But as long as public policy promotes burning fossil fuels, we will find a way to burn them. Playing whack-a-mole on the transport industry won’t change that.

  16. Ken Barrows says:

    Our stomachs will turn. But then President Obama will say something and we will feel much better. Rinse and repeat.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Camburn, as you well know, if Obama approves Keystone (íf’!!??)then the chances of the Congress passing a carbon tax are also zero. Must try harder.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The ‘positive’ announcement will either be a sham, what we call ‘non-core promises’ in Australia thanks to John Howard, or will later be euthanased by the Republicans.