Photo courtesy of www.whitehouse.senate.gov
By Kate Colarulli, Beyond Oil Campaign Associate Director
Last week, prominent voices in Congress stressed the State Department's failure to accurately account for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline's climate impacts, noting that there is "nothing inevitable" about tar sands escaping the ground. We couldn't agree more, and the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil Campaign applauds House Representative Henry Waxman and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse for asking the State Department to go back to the drawing board and better account for this project's threat to our climate.
On July 10, Representative Waxman and Senator Whitehouse released a 20-page letter to the State Department, highlighting errors in the State Department's assumption that the Keystone XL project would not have major climate impacts, and called on the State Department to conduct a more thorough evaluation for the final report.
The letter also says that that Keystone XL will fail to meet President Obama's climate test: in his climate speech last month, the President declared he would base the Keystone XL decision on whether the project will "significantly exacerbate the climate problem." Of course, to make such a decision, the president needs to act on good information, which the State Department thus far has failed to provide. Waxman and Whitehouse stated:
"We urge the State Department to do a better job in analyzing the effect that Keystone XL would have on the development of the Canadian tar sands and the additional carbon pollution that would result, as well as the effect that Keystone XL would have on the quantity of carbon pollution produced by the U.S. transportation sector. We believe such an analysis would show that the Keystone XL pipeline fails the test the president set forth and must be denied."
This point reflects the analysis by a host of climate experts, the Environmental Protection Agency, Wall Street financial institutions, and oil analysts that the State Department's environmental review critically underplays the pipeline's impact.
Congressman Waxman and Senator Whitehouse challenge the underlying assumption of State's review -- that the expansion of tar sands is inevitable. Citing over a dozen financial analysts, government officials, and research institutes, they assert that, "Basic economics informs us that there is nothing inevitable about the projected rate of expansion of the tar sands." They go further by calling on the State Department to "acknowledge that it has no crystal ball to predict the future," calling its failure to analyze different scenarios a "fatal flaw" in the review.
Waxman and Whitehouse also address the State Department's assumption that the carbon pollution caused by the Keystone XL pipeline would be a drop in the bucket of all greenhouse gas emissions:
"If the climate change effects of the Keystone XL pipeline are not considered to be significant, it is unclear whether there is any individual project in the United States that would ever be considered significant."
With increasing numbers of droughts, wildfires and super storms threating the U.S., the American public does not have the luxury of tolerating poor analyses that could critically handicap our ability to combat climate change. With the President's decision fast approaching, we enthusiastically applaud the efforts of these Congressional champions for speaking out against Keystone XL and tar sands expansion.