The Showdown Over Keystone, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 14 2015 @ 11:14am

A reader huffs:

Regarding Dave Roberts’ comment that blocking Keystone “will show that there’s life in the climate movement”, I beg to differ.  Keystone is a symbolic victory without any substance; if the moral victory is to “show that people can mobilize around climate with the numbers”, congratulations, you just won a victory that has zero effect on climate change.

I’ve been an environmentalist since I was a kid roaming the mountains of New Hampshire and the backwoods of Maine, but I cringe at supporting any environmental group that is focusing on Keystone.  Today my charitable giving instead goes to groups like the Nature Conservancy that are actually working to protect forests, make coral reefs more resistant to climate change, and otherwise finding practical solutions instead of spending their resources fighting moral victories. If Roberts’ “climate movement” wants me to join them, start picking battles that actually matter – write a bill that sets national renewable standards, or that creates long-lasting incentives for non-carbon energy sources, or something that ACTUALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE for the climate, and I’ll happily join the cause.

Another counters:

You quote a reader who says “Believing that stopping XL will benefit the environment is just sticking your head in the oil-sands.” Then you allow Dave Roberts to counter, with his claim that such commentators “apply wonk logic to an activist problem.”  Not at all.  If fact, it’s the “wonk logic” of your reader that’s off track.

Max Auffhammer, an environmental economist at UC-Berkeley, did the math last March and estimated that “not building Keystone XL will likely leave a billion barrels worth of bitumen in the ground.” All that bitumen simply cannot get out of Canada fast enough on trains.  If Keystone XL goes down, a lot of CO2 will never enter earth’s atmosphere. McKibben isn’t right on everything, but he’s at least partly right on this.


To the reader who asked for a dose of reality when it comes to building Keystone; yes, this Liberal will give you that the oil will come out regardless of whether or not Keystone is built.  Since we’re being honest, time for some honesty from the other side as well. First, stop saying this is about jobs.  Why do the oil companies want the pipeline? Because it lowers their cost to get the product to market.  The money they would pay to thousands of truck drivers and train companies they now get to keep.  Yes, there will be some temporary construction jobs created, but once the pipeline is built, it will take very little people to manage, so the net impact will be less jobs.

More honesty?  Whether Keystone is built or not, it will have zero impact on oil prices and therefore no impact on everyday Americans.  Even more?  Yes, the likelihood of a spill is less for the pipeline versus rail/truck, but the pipeline is carrying significantly more oil and a leak can go undetected for some time, so the chance is less but the impact is much, much larger.

So the last reality I’d like to reader to face is this has nothing to do with helping middle/lower class in this country.  This is about people in the oil industry making as much money as they possibly can.

On that note:

As you’re covering the Keystone XL activity today/this week, I hope you’ll include an important factor in these votes and debates that isn’t getting covered: the $721 million the energy industry spent in the 2014 midterms to put industry-friendly politicians in Congress.

It’s no surprise that congressional leaders are so focused on passing Keystone their first weeks back in Washington. Despite this clear connection, most of the Keystone coverage has not highlighted how much the fight for this bill on the House and Senate floors is directly tied to the fundraising dollars that politicians received from big oil. Here are few valuable resources for you if you’re looking into how big oil has influenced the movement on Keystone:

  • How oil and gas lobbying money and election donations have influenced votes in Congress, like promoting offshore drilling or stopping clean energy initiatives, that go directly against the interests of the majority of Americans;
  • How coal, oil, and gas industries have worked behind the scenes to encourage easing restrictions on private money in elections and to strip disenfranchised communities of their voting rights