No mention of Keystone XL. Not a word about oil sands from Canada.
Exactly a year after President Barack Obama’s dire warning that global warming would “condemn ... future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing” unless greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels were cut drastically, the White House issued a progress report. It didn’t even mention the controversial plan to funnel carbon-heavy Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries – a plan which has dominated the climate-change debate in the United States.
In his landmark speech, Mr. Obama singled out Keystone XL as the kind of project that needed to be measured in terms of its impact on greenhouse-gas emissions. Since then, he has again delayed a decision on TransCanada Corp. $5.4-million scheme to funnel 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude across the United States to Gulf coast refineries.
Mr. Obama’s latest delay pushes any decision back at least until next year – after November’s mid-term elections. Several Democratic senators who favour Keystone XL are fighting for their political lives.
Keystone XL remains the focal point of much of the climate-change debate, used by environmentalists as a high-profile litmus test of the President’s credibility on combatting greenhouse-gas emissions, while backers of the project say he should stop dithering and pandering to a segment of his base when polls shows clear support for the project.
“It’s long past time for the president to end this absurd political delay and put thousands of Americans back to work building Keystone XL,” Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for OilSandsFactCheck, a lobby group backed by oil companies and other business groups, wrote this week.
In its 15-page report issued Wednesday, the White House claimed “real progress” in delivering on Mr. Obama’s pledge. The U.S. is “on track to meet our target of reducing emissions in the range of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020,” it said, adding: “The U.S. can and will take the lead on climate action, while lowering household energy bills, creating good paying jobs that cannot be outsourced, and protecting our homes, businesses, and way of life from extreme weather events and climate change.”
Keystone XL remains front and centre in the political debate, even if it warrants no mention in the report.
Advocates and opponents of the project will be watching to see if the President gives any hint about a decision – dubbed a “no-brainer” by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has lobbied long and hard for Keystone XL – when he speaks Wednesday evening to the League of Conservation Voters, one of many groups opposed to the project.
“This pipeline will carry oil that is dirtier, riskier, and more expensive than anything else we can dig up so that big oil companies can then ship tar sands products to China or India,” the league says. “Keystone XL and tar sands have always been a bad deal for the American people, and it’s becoming less and less clear just who benefits from their development.”
In the speech Wednesday evening to the League of Conversation Voters - the first national organization to endorse him when he ran for the Senate in 2004 - Mr. Obama made no reference to Keystone XL or to Canadian oil sands crude.
Instead, he spoke of the long, slow progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and took a swipe at Republicans in Congress, some of whom still deny global warming.
"In Congress, folks will tell you climate change is a hoax or a fad or a plot, a Liberal plot," he said.
Part of the day-long anniversary includes a visit to the White House by Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who is reportedly ready to put up $100-million in campaign funds to target Republicans supporting Keystone. The latest target, Florida Senator Marco Rubio – a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016 – is dubbed a “sucker” on Keystone XL claims in an ad to be released later this week. An earlier version of the ad was given ‘Four Pinocchios’ by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker for claiming all the oil was bound for overseas markets.
A year ago, Mr. Obama laid out his conditions for approving Keystone XL, saying it needed “a finding that doing so would be in the nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if the project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
Both sides quickly claimed victory and continue to do so. Opponents argue that building the pipeline will spur massive development of Alberta’s vast reserves by delivering higher, world-market prices for the oil-sands crude that currently trades at a huge discount because it lacks access to international markets.
Advocates argue that pipeline delivery is cheaper and less polluting than rail, so Keystone XL will actually decrease emissions because – they say – Alberta’s reserves will be developed in any event.
Keystone XL remains the centre of acrimonious debates on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed a bill that would remove presidential authority for approval of pipelines that cross international boundaries. A similar effort failed in the Senate’s energy committee last week. Even if such legislation ever reached the president’s desk, Mr. Obama has said he would veto it.
But legislative futility hasn’t quieted the debate.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, lampooned those, like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and ardent Keystone XL backer. “They can’t credibly claim to have influence on issues like these even as they let their party leaders shoot down almost every effort to achieve the things they claim to want – like Keystone,” Sen. McConnell said.