TransCanada Corp. is making another pitch to the Obama administration for approval of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, citing, among other things, the tougher carbon-emission regulations imposed by Alberta's New Democratic government.
The Calgary-based pipeline company has been waiting for a decision for the past five months – since the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the state's approval of the current route. It has been almost18 months since the U.S. State Department completed its final environmental impact statement, which concluded the project would not drive up greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – a conclusion that has been challenged by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a letter released Tuesday, TransCanada noted recent developments that it says demonstrate Canada is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and further prove that the construction of the pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast would not "significantly exacerbate" climate change, the test laid down by President Barack Obama.
It pointed to Alberta's decision last week to impose stricter emission standards on the sector. The new NDP government amended existing regulations to require large industrial polluters such as those in the oil sands to cut per-barrel emissions by 20 per cent from 2005 levels – up from 12 per cent. The government also increased the levy from $15 to $30 a tonne of GHG emissions in excess of the regulated limit.
In announcing those changes and plans for a broader climate strategy, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips suggested Alberta would improve market access for its oil producers – that is, win support for new pipelines – by adopting more aggressive environmental policies.
TransCanada also cited the federal government's pledge – filed with the United Nations last month – to reduce GHGs by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, as well as the Group of Seven leaders' commitment to pursue "deep decarbonization" over the course of the century and reduce GHGs by 40 per cent to 70 per cent from 2010 levels by 2050.
"Clearly recent Canadian, North American and international GHG policy developments are consistent with President Obama's stance on not exacerbating the risk of climate change," TransCanada vice-president Alex Pourbaix said in the letter.
"We are asking the U.S. State Department to consider these recent developments that add to the abundance of evidence already collected through seven years and 17,000 pages of review that Keystone XL will not 'significantly exacerbate' greenhouse gas emissions."
Mr. Pourbaix added that the United States will rely on oil for its transportation needs for the foreseeable future. "The United States will continue to be a net importer of crude oil for decades to come, which means that the Keystone XL pipeline and the Canadian crude oil it proposes to transport will still be needed," he said.
Obama administration spokesmen have said recently that the State Department continues to review the file and have given no indication on when a decision will be forthcoming. The Keystone XL issue has been politically charged in Washington; earlier this year, Mr. Obama was forced to veto legislation passed by the Republican-led Congress that would have approved the project.
Despite suggestions that tougher climate regulations will provide "social licence" for new pipelines, environmentalists rejected TransCanada's argument. The federal commitment includes no plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions in the oil sands, and the Alberta government's announcement will bring little improvement in the sector, says Erin Flanagan, an oil-sands analyst with the Calgary-based Pembina Institute.
"The crux here is that those policy announcements have not translated into real change on the ground in Alberta," Ms. Flanagan said on Tuesday. "We have not seen a significant reduction in emissions from this sector to date, so TransCanada's argument that these policy developments should green-light the project don't hold water."