Keystone’s Carbon Contribution

The State Department’s Environmental Impact Report on the Keystone XL pipeline, released on Friday, concludes that the project won’t have any significant effect on carbon emissions:

The pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf coast, has been attacked as the release valve for the more carbon-intensive bitumen that is fueling Canada’s energy boom. While the heavy crude coming from the Alberta fields would release roughly 17 percent more carbon than the heavy crude it would displace from U.S. refineries, the report claims that Keystone “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.” In short, the oil is coming out one way or another — it’s only a matter of how it travels.

Plumer digs into the report:

More specifically: The 830,000 barrels of oil that the pipeline would transport each day would add an extra 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. That’s a whole lot of carbon — it’s like putting an extra 250,000 to 5.5 million cars on the road. But the key question is how much of that oil would get burned anyway, even if the pipeline is blocked. And the State Department believes most of it will get produced regardless.

Joshua Green notices that the much-touted job creating effect of the pipeline isn’t expected to last long:

The State Department concluded that the project would create 42,100 temporary jobs during the two-year construction period. But the report says once the pipeline enters service, it will support only 50 U.S. jobs—35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.

And Heather Smith points out that this report isn’t necessarily the final word:

The State Department, which prepared the EIR, is also due to release the results of an investigation by the Inspector General into the review’s first draft, which turned out to be written by a contractor who had also done work in the not-too-distant-past for TransCanada, the company that wants to build KXL. If the investigation finds a conflict of interest, the State Department may be forced to do an entirely new EIR.

The politics make approving or rejecting the pipeline a tricky call for Obama:

A group of big Democratic donors, including Esprit co-founder Susie Tompkins Buell and Taco Bell heir and Democracy Alliance head Rob McKay, have publicly pressured Obama to reject the pipeline. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who poured money to help Terry McAuliffe win the Virginia governor’s race last year, ran an anti-Keystone ad during the State of the Union and is expected to spend millions of dollars more.

But Obama isn’t running again and several moderate Senate Democrats, including Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan, already support building the pipeline. It’d take an anti-Obama talking point off the table and avoid the possibility of an international spat with Canada.

Greens also realistically have nowhere to go — even if disappointed on one issue, a Democratic president and Senate is far better than anything the GOP can offer them.

Chait sees blocking Keystone as a losing issue for environmentalists:

[Ryan] Cooper mockingly asks readers to envision a protest where organizers shout,“What do we want?” “More stringent carbon dioxide emission regulations on extant coal-fired power plants!” “When do we want it?’ “After the extraordinarily complicated rule-writing process over which the president has no direct control!” It certainly may be easier to get people excited about opposing a pipeline. It may also be hard to get people excited about favoring new regulations.

But if your goal is to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, you need to have a strategy designed to advance policies that limit greenhouse-gas emissions. Stopping Keystone doesn’t do that. EPA regulations would. Would blocking the Keystone pipeline make it easier for Obama to issue tough regulations on existing power plants, and to negotiate an international climate treaty in 2015 after such regulations bring us into compliance with our reduction targets? I don’t see how.

Ryan Cooper counters:

Now, it is true that fighting individual pipelines one by one is a pretty dumb strategy if one’s goal is stopping climate change by that method alone. Oil companies will always win in the end at that game. Of course, that has never ever been the long-term strategy for Bill McKibben (who knows all about EPA regulations, even mentioning them before Keystone in this piece) and the other Keystone activists. The point is to use Keystone as a coordination point to create political pressure on the administration to take more drastic action. In that, they’ve already succeeded.