The Showdown Over Keystone, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 12 2015 @ 2:02pm

A reader writes:

Bill McKibben’s comments that somehow carbon is staying in the ground if Keystone XL is not constructed is nonsensical. You see, there is this cool invention called “Trains” that have scores of large containers that hold bitumen and oil. Does he think the oil companies have never heard of them? That they would say “aw shucks I guess we’ll just stop producing”? How does he figure the oil is sold and delivered today?

The irony is that trains produce carbon emissions while pipelines do not. Trains are also more at risk to cause spills than a pipeline. Pipelines are the environmentally friendly choice to deliver oil or bitumen. People who oppose the pipelines are therefore either misinformed or are actually simply opposing oil production.

While there may be merits to argue for reduced production, the facts are that in the short to medium term, oil production is a requirement of our society, and as long as it is occurring, it will be delivered to the refineries one way or the other. Believing that stopping XL will benefit the environment is just sticking your head in the oil-sands.

Another reader made a similar case during a previous Dish debate on the subject. But Dave Roberts dismisses such complaints and accuses many commentators of “applying wonk logic to an activist problem“:

All along, at every stage, Very Serious People were absolutely sure that the pipeline was about to be approved. The economy was hurting, the Tea Party had everyone terrified, and the public was mostly pro-pipeline. The hippies just don’t win those kinds of fights. Obama would “trade” Keystone to show that he’s reasonable, that he can compromise, that he’s willing to move to the right to meet in the middle. That’s the script.

So if Keystone is blocked — and that’s still a big if — it will upend conventional wisdom. It will show that people can mobilize around climate with the numbers, intensity, and money necessary to pull the Democratic Party their way. It will show that there’s life in the climate movement.

Lizza wonders whether Obama will negotiate over Keystone:

From the White House’s perspective, the Keystone XL pipeline should be an ideal policy to give away in a trade: it’s a major issue that Republicans care a great deal about but one that Obama seems to view as a sideshow.

Before Keystone, there was little public appetite to debate the merits of fossil-fuel infrastructure. Obscure and opaque government agencies would stay within their lanes, largely approving projects so long as the requisite regulatory boxes got checked.

Even under the executive order that environmentalists have leveraged to cripple Keystone, another major Canadian heavy oil pipeline won Obama’s approval to cross the northern border in 2009. In 2014 that same pipeline’s operator had to resort to bureaucratic sleight of hand to push 75,000 extra barrels per day into the United States by building interconnections between existing projects—a literal crude switcheroo.

Recent Dish here on how plummeting oil prices are now changing the debate over the pipeline.