Rumors are swirling in Washington and throughout the internet this morning that the State Department is expected to release it’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline. This is by no means the final word on Keystone XL, but the flick of a finger that starts the dominoes falling towards an ultimate decision. The release of the FEIS signals the beginning of a National Interest Determination period which will last at least 90 days, including opportunities for public comments according to the state department.
But don’t let the convoluted process fool you: this is President Obama’s decision and his alone–and he has all the information he needs to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The President has already laid out a climate test for Keystone XL, that it can’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. It’s clear that Keystone XL fails that test.
The core question that the President needs to decide is whether building an 800,000 barrel-a-day tar sands pipeline designed to export oil outside of the United States is in our natural interest. Yes, the pipeline would pose an astronomical cost to our climate and a huge risk to families along the pipeline route. Keystone XL will fuel the climate crisis, which means more drought, more fires, more extreme weather events, and a more cost to our economy and the environment. Anybody that truly has our national interest at stake, rather than the interests of a few pipeline companies and oil tycoons like the Koch Brothers, would reject this pipeline immediately.
The nation’s top climate scientists have written to President Obama and the State Department repeatedly to explain that Keystone XL is a climate disaster. The President should listen to them, rather than accept the twisted logic of the fossil fuel industry.
The State Department process has been almost as dirty as the tar sands themselves. Conflicts of interest, industry contractors, shoddy analysis—there’s a reason top scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency have criticized the conclusions of previous reports. The State Department’s Inspector General is currently investigating the department over conflict of interest claims. We’re still waiting to see the IG’s report, but the willingness of the State Department to move its review forward in this air of controversy is troubling.
But even the industry contractors hired by the State Department won’t be able to cover up the fact that tar sands are a climate disaster. We haven’t see a copy of the FEIS yet, but we’re anticipating that there will be plenty of information in there that shows how tar sands are more carbon intensive than regular fuels. In the past, industry contractors have argued that while tar sands are bad for the climate, but argued that it’s ok to approve Keystone XL because expanding rail capacity will allow for expanded tar sands development anyway. That’s like saying because drugs are coming across the border by truck it’s ok to build a conveyor belt to make it easier.
Let’s say a few factories are polluting a river. That wouldn’t justify President Obama approving a giant pipeline that would pump more toxins into the same river. In the same way, just because some companies are already pouring tar sands pollution in to the atmosphere doesn’t mean President Obama is justified building a pipeline that opens the floodgates for more pollution.
During the State of the Union, President Obama said he wanted to be able to look into the eyes of his children’s children and say he did everything he could to confront the climate crisis. How exactly does he plan on explaining to his grandchildren how building a 800,000 barrel a day tar sands pipeline like Keystone XL helped solve climate change? The twisted logic in the State Department’s environmental assessment might provide some political cover in DC, but it will be small comfort for future generations who have the bear the impacts of the climate crisis.
We’re anticipating that despite the bad process over at the State Department, the FEIS should give the President all he needs to stand up to Big Oil and do the right thing: reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Over the coming months, we’ll be turning up the heat to make sure he does.