Keystone XL News Round-Up: Environmentalists Hail Decision to Deny Pipeline Permit; GOP Vows to Force Approval

Here’s a round-up of some the latest opinion and reporting on yesterday’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Bill McKibben, the man who crushed the Keystone XL pipeline

On November 6, 2011, Bill McKibben arrived at Washington, D.C.’s, Lafayette Park to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. McKibben, a Vermont writer and environmentalist, had been one of 1,252 people arrested in front of the White House in August and September, protesting the same pipeline. He’d spent two nights in the district’s Central Cell Block, and now was back with thousands more people and a bold new plan.

“We can’t literally occupy the White House,” McKibben had told his fellow protesters, “so the next best thing is to surround it.” And that’s what they would do, encircle the White House in a “giant hug” to remind President Obama of his campaign promise to “end the tyranny of oil.” McKibben wasn’t sure how many people he would need to “hug” the White House, though, and was worried that he wouldn’t have enough.

It turns out he had plenty. At least 12,000, actually, making it the largest protest ever for an environmental cause outside the White House. The protesters circled the White House several times and in some places stood five deep. Speaking to the crowd, McKibben seemed pleasantly surprised that so many people had actually showed up. “We have been wondering if anybody was going to come,” he told them, perhaps a bit too honestly. “It’s been decades since there’s been a crowd like this outside the White House about something to do with the environment. So you have done a great thing today.”

Rejecting Pipeline Proposal, Obama Blames Congress

President Obama on Wednesday rejected, for now, the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the $7 billion project could not be adequately reviewed within the 60-day deadline set by Congress. While the president’s action does not preclude later approval of the project, it sets up a baldly partisan fight over energy, jobs and regulation that will most likely persist through the November election.

The president said his hand had been forced by Republicans in Congress, who inserted a provision in the temporary payroll tax cut bill passed in December giving the administration only until Feb. 21 to decide the fate of the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would stretch from oil sands formations in Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The State Department, which has authority over the project because it crosses an international border, said there was not enough time to draw a new route for the pipeline and assess the potential environmental harm to sensitive grasslands and aquifers along its path. The agency recommended that the permit be denied, and Mr. Obama concurred.

GOP mulls legislation to force Keystone approval

Republicans are mulling legislative options to circumvent the Obama administration’s Wednesday decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

“This is not the end of the fight. Republicans in Congress will continue to push this because it is good for our country, it is good for the economy and it’s good for the American people,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Wednesday just minutes after Obama announced his decision to reject the project.

Boehner said Republicans are considering legislative options to ensure that the pipeline gets built, but he offered no specifics.

“All options are the table,” he said.

Anticipating that Obama would reject the pipeline, top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee met Tuesday to discuss legislative options. And a meeting with other GOP lawmakers on the panel is scheduled for next week.

Keystone XL is dead for now. What’s next?

As Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report, the Obama administration is nixing the Keystone XL pipeline, which would’ve carried oil from Canada’s tar sands down to the Gulf Coast. So why did Obama reject it? And what happens next?

White House officials have long blamed Republicans in Congress for imposing an arbitrary deadline on the project that made a proper review all but impossible. Back in November, President Obama said that the Keystone pipeline should be rerouted in response to concerns that leaks could taint Nebraska’s water supplies. That process would’ve stretched into 2013. In last month’s payroll tax cut extension, however, Republicans included a provision that forced the administration to make a final decision by Feb. 21 of this year. White House officials bristled at what spokesman Jay Carney called “an attempt to short-circuit the review process.” And, in the end, the administration blocked the permits altogether.

Now, this doesn’t mean the pipeline is dead and buried. TransCanada is planning to reapply for permits once it comes up with an alternative pipeline route that doesn’t run through Nebraska’s Sandhills. This will delay the project even further, because the company will have to grind through the permitting process all over again, but it’s possible that the company could eventually win approval. TransCanada’s stock price initially plunged when rumors of the rejection first emerged, but has since slowly recovered.

NYT Op-Ed: A Good Call on the Pipeline

President Obama has properly rejected, at least for now, the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast. He rebuffed the demand of House Republicans that the controversial project be decided in haste under an election-year deadline.

The foolish requirement that Mr. Obama issue a decision on the pipeline by Feb. 21 — cynically inserted into the payroll tax bill passed in December — could never be met given the need for a thorough environmental study before any judgment is made.

The president made the right call in accepting the recommendation of the State Department, which has primary jurisdiction over the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would cross through ecologically sensitive areas in the Midwest. Mr. Obama said his judgment was based not on the merits but on a timetable that was “rushed and arbitrary.” He has maintained that a decision on the current proposal could not be made until some time next year. The pipeline sponsor, TransCanada, could submit a proposal to build along another route, but that, too, would require time for a comprehensive environmental review.

Bill McKibben: Obama’s Denial of Keystone Permit Was a Welcome Win Against Big Oil

I wrote the first book on global warming way back in 1989, so I know for a fact that there have been very few days in the last two decades when the scientists have been smiling and big oil scowling. When the president denied the permit for Keystone XL on Wednesday, he didn’t just turn the usual balance of power upside down, he turned the conventional wisdom more or less on its head—as late as October, a National Journal poll of 300 D.C. “energy insiders” showed 91 percent predicting that the pipeline would be approved.

The victory is of course a tribute to people who set aside their natural cynicism about the possibility of change and instead went to jail in record numbers, wrote public comments in record numbers, surrounded the White House shoulder to shoulder five deep. They managed to bring reality to the forefront for once, and that reality—the leaky pipeline, the oil destined for export, the carbon overload from the tar sands—managed to trump, for now, the bottomless pockets of the fossil fuel industry.

What was interesting yesterday was watching the reaction of the congressional leadership, who’d forced the issue by passing legislation mandating a speedy approval process. They’d set the president an essentially impossible task, since Transcanada Pipeline hadn’t even announced the route they wanted to take through Nebraska. But apparently they thought he’d blink anyway. After all, the head of the American Petroleum Institute had issued the most naked political threat imaginable: block the pipeline, he’d told the president in a speech last week, and there will be “huge political consequences.” And of course he has more than enough money to back up the threat.

Five myths about the Keystone XL pipeline

After months of intense debates and protests, the Obama administration has finally decided the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline project: It’s not going to happen anytime soon.

The proposed pipeline would have moved about 700,000 barrels of oil-like bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to Texas refineries each day, and oil companies and their allies lobbied hard for it — including with an ad blitz that ran during Republican presidential debates. But, in a victory for environmental activists and parts of the president’s base, the State Department has rejected the permit for its construction (though it has left the door open for its backers to reapply).

Is the decision a boon for the environment or a slap at an already weak economy? Let’s separate fact from fiction.

Obama’s Pipeline Move: Something for Everyone

There’s been extensive coverage of President Obama’s decision, forced by a Republican legislative maneuver, to reject the application for a much-debated pipeline project, known as Keystone XL, that would have carried a tarry oil precursor from Canadian oil sands to American refineries.

The bottom line is well summarized by John Broder and Dan Frosch in The Times:

While the president’s action does not preclude later approval of the project, it sets up a baldly partisan fight over energy, jobs and regulation that will most likely persist through the November election.

House Republicans have called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify as early as next week on the Obama administration’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton formally sent a request to Clinton to come and testify at a hearing as early as next Wednesday, the day after President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Upton is required to give members of his panel a week’s notice before a hearing occurs. “So as much as I’d like to do it tomorrow, or Friday or Monday, we can’t ask her before Wednesday,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Upton added he had not heard back from the State Department but “we expect to hear back very shortly.” He said Clinton is the only witnesses he has asked for so far.

Who’re the Anti-Obama Billionaires Supporting the Keystone Pipeline?

Billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch were stopped today. The Keystone XL oil pipeline will meet its end today in a Washington DC press conference. The pipeline would’ve been one of the largest oil developments in American history. The pipeline would’ve destroyed American homes, farmlands and sensitive ecosystems along the nearly 2,000-mile path from Northwest Canada and through six U.S. states to the Gulf of Mexico.

But it also represented a win for brothers Koch, who’ve used their net worth to influence politicians and the media to support policies that would make them richer.

The Koch brothers helped fund and start the Tea Party group, Americans for Prosperity. It’s Nebraska chapter has actively promoted and organized around the Keystone pipeline despite numerous concerns voiced by the Republican governor of Nebraska and thousands of Cornhusker residents. Many activists in our Koch Brothers Exposed network have said they’ve seen Americans for Prosperity commercials in their communities supporting the pipeline.

12 Responses to Keystone XL News Round-Up: Environmentalists Hail Decision to Deny Pipeline Permit; GOP Vows to Force Approval

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Climate Crocks

    Republicans are already blasting Obama for failing to stand up to his base — environmentalists had organized aggressively against the decision, and deserve tremendous credit for helping to make this outcome happen. Whether or not a fear of the base drove this decision, Obama did stand up to his Republican opponents.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Robert Redford

    Let’s face it: Big Oil is used to getting its way. But not today… and we have President Obama to thank for standing up to them in spite of the political risk.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Related: Ian Dunlop – Transistion: Peak Oil and Climate Change

    He talks about energy security and global warming, “must watch”.

  4. Raul M. says:

    Blogger comment in comment section of Twilight story on Huff Post mentions only 90% chance that atmospheric methane will oxidize into co2 in the atmosphere.
    Could that mean that hydroxyl radical is already starting to get used up?
    That the dependence on some of the methane returning to the soil is increasing?
    Do we still have 4 years left till we will know that global climate has changed?

  5. prokaryotes says:

    “If you don’t have a stable environemnt, you don’t have an economy.” Ian Dunlop

  6. prokaryotes says:

    This estimate there is for the >50 meter methane sources. So until the water column is more saturated with carbon, more still gets dissoluted in the water. But most of the ESAS (East Siberian Arctic Shelf) is around 25 meter and there is a lot of carbon runoff from the rivers, which transport carbon from permafrost erosion.

    The best explanation i came across can be foudn here

    Key Findings + Background Science = SWIPA Chapter 5 · Changing Permafrost and its Impacts (notice, it is 80 mb download)

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Ok, the estimates i gave about get be found here

    SkS: Your 2011 field season is reported to have located kilometre-diameter plumes of outgassing methane. Are these located in areas visited in previous seasons?

    NS: These were new sites from that part of the ESAS that was investigated very sparsely before. In our previous investigations we mainly focused on the shallower part of the ESAS, which composes about 70% of the total area and provides a very short conduit for methane to escape to the atmosphere. Besides, because we worked mostly on small vessels, we were not allowed to navigate far enough from the coasts to reach the mid-outer shelf where water is relatively deep on the scale of the shallow ESAS (>50 m depth). That is why deeper waters were under-represented and were considered a minor contributor to annual emissions. Last summer’s findings made us re-consider our previous constraint on the annual emission budget; they highlight the need to further assess underestimated components of annual fluxes from the ESAS.

  8. Lou Grinzo says:

    Now I know how Paul Volcker supposedly once said he felt as Fed Chairman — that it was his job to take away the punch bowl when the party was getting too rambunctious.

    Is rejecting KXL the right decision? Yes.

    Will it get built eventually? Highly likely — probability > 90%, I’d guess.

    When will the new, rerouted pipeline get approved? Obama’s second term or the first term of the next Republican president, whichever comes first. (I’m betting the latter, hopefully after President Cuomo’s second term is up.)

    Why? Simple: That oil isn’t going anywhere and neither is our insatiable thirst for it or the (grossly overblown) promises of jobs associated with the project. Look at the jaw-dropping rate at which Americans are still buying mammoth SUVs as I type this, for example, vehicles that I predict will some day be running on gasoline refined from crude oil that passed through KXL-II.

    The fossil fuel companies are wealthy, patient, and devious. And they operate in a political environment that’s heavily tilted in their favor (e.g. post-Citizens United decision). All it will take is one major oil disruption and a month of $5 gasoline or simply the ongoing effects of rising consumption in China and India coupled with more or less flat world production to convince Americans that KXL-II is “needed”. That would be a deeply flawed conclusion, but it’s the one they’ll reach.

    So yes, by all means take pride in helping nudge a decision in the right direction. But it’s just one tiny step in a long journey, and no one should consider it more than that.

  9. john atcheson says:

    I’m heartened by the decision, but concerned, too. Obama left open the prospect of approving another route — which means he didn’t reject the XL for the reason it should be rejected. It’s a massive carbon bomb.

    So I for one am ready to go to jail again if he waffles.

  10. John says:

    Just like all of you, I don’t want to see the pipeline built. But the real issue is not to stop the pipeline, we need to keep the oil in ground and not in the atmosphere.

    Food for thought, if we don’t build the pipeline, China will be happy to help finance a line to the Canadian west coast. Then you have the potential of not only a pipeline spill, but the prospect of a major tanker spill. And the oil still ends up in the atmosphere.
    It’s best to leave the oil in the ground, but it appears that we may be faced with the lesser of two evils.
    I’d rather see the jobs and oil here than in China.

  11. prokaryotes says:

    Here is a good video about SWIPA

    [Video] SWIPA – A Changing Environment

    Probably one of the best videos about it…

  12. Raul M. says:

    Maybe the oxidizing agent could be measured to determine how much methane had been reacted. That figured in with estimated sources of co2 for emissions and is it in the ballpark of the observed increases in co2?
    Then by knowing how much methane has reacted and the amount of reduction of oxidizing reactant a ballpark could be guessed for the further depletion of reactant; but as the reactant becomes further depleted there would be a timing change with the increases of methane for reactions to occur?
    Anyway I was just wandering if I had time to become rich designing beautiful new shelters…before…