June 28, 2013:  On Tuesday, June 25, President Barack Obama laid out a bold plan for responding to global climate change.  In addition to praising natural gas as a critical part of reducing carbon emissions, the President specifically addressed the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL).

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.   The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.


LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan speaks at a rally supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Photo: Bill Burke/Page One.

In a statement commending President Obama for his remarks, LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan interpreted these comments to mean that the State Department soon will grant the permit TransCanada has been seeking for more than four years.

Since the factual record has been clearly established that the development of the Canadian oil sands would not impact greenhouse gas production, the men and women of LIUNA look forward to building this important energy infrastructure project.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard issued a statement reminding the President that, “[your] questions about the Keystone XL pipeline have been answered by four comprehensive State Department reviews that have concluded the project will have no significant impact on the environment.”


API President and CEO Jack Gerard, speaking at a LIUNA rally on behalf of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Photo by Ed Rehfeld/LECET.

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling sounded a similarly upbeat tone in his comments about the President’s remarks: “TransCanada is pleased with the president’s guidance to the State Department, as the almost five-year review of the project has already repeatedly found that these criteria are satisfied.”

Of course, the President’s comments were vague enough to give hope to KXL opponents as well.

“The President’s strong commitment to using climate pollution as the standard by which Keystone XL will be decided means his decision to reject it should now be easy,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.  “Any fair and unbiased analysis of the tar sands pipeline shows that the climate effects of this disastrous project would be significant.”

In fact, many fair and unbiased analyses of the KXL and its impact on climate change have determined just the opposite.  Indeed, the latest State Department review concluded that because the Keystone XL will divert oil away from modes of transport that produce significantly more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than the low-emission, LEED-certified pipeline, the Keystone XL Pipeline might actually reduce total GHG emissions associated with development of the oil sands.

This doesn’t even take into account the additional reductions in GHG emissions achieved when shale oil from North Dakota is diverted from tanker trucks to the KXL.  North Dakota Industrial Commission Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms recently estimated that the KXL would eliminate enough long-haul tanker trips in North Dakota alone to reduce tanker-related GHGs by 1 million kilograms per day.

For those who are genuinely concerned about the environment and climate change, approving the KXL should be a slam-dunk.  Yet some KXL opponents recently admitted that their opposition to this critical, jobs-generating, state-of-the-art, environmentally sound, LEED-certified pipeline grows more from hatred of oil and gas companies than from love of the environment.

This past Monday morning (June 24), several members of a group calling itself Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance locked themselves to heavy equipment at the construction site of a pumping station for the approved southern leg of the KXL, currently under construction.  (There is a certain comic irony in protesting an oil pipeline by attaching oneself to equipment utilizing carbon- and petroleum-intensive devices such as steel chains, hand cuffs, and plastic wrist ties.)

Explaining his group’s latest theatrics, spokesman Eric Whelan said, “we believe that building a movement that can resist all infrastructure expansion at the point of construction is a necessity.”  Here, then, is a straightforward and refreshingly candid admission that this is more about fighting all fossil fuel infrastructure than it is about protecting the environment.  Those who believe that we must immediately stop all use of fossil fuels, like those who deny even the reality of climate change, are entitled to their views, however misinformed, impractical, and extreme.  But neither they, nor anyone following this ongoing debate, should confuse such views and actions with legitimate environmental protection or climate mitigation.

By providing a safe, clean, low-emissions route to market for resources that will continue to be developed with or without it, the KXL is the best way to minimize the downstream impact of oil sands development and protect the environment.  The President and his State Department now face a choice: do they do the utmost to protect the environment by permitting this pipeline, or do they abdicate that responsibility in a self-righteous and counterproductive quest for ideological purity?

Ed Rehfeld, Manager of Communications