Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013

Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013
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The State Department announced today that they would “seek additional information” about the Keystone XL pipeline, meaning that they will take another 12 months at least to re-review the proposed pipeline route. This new review will build on (or make up) for the woefully-incompletely Environmental Impact Statement.

Here’s the State Department’s official language:

…given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. …
Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The decision comes in the immediate wake of a massive protest at the White House on Sunday, as roughly 12,000 anti-pipeline activists circled the White House in a “solidarity hug.” The action was the latest in a series of protests and events staged by opponents of the proposed TransCanada pipeline that would funnel tar sands crude from Canada down to the Gulf Coast in Texas, much of it bound for export to other nations.

The decision to delay is a clear testament to the power of public engagement in the political process and good old-fashioned protest. But the battle isn’t over yet.

Since the first of the civilly disobedience activists was arrested in August, a steady stream of negative news has betrayed the proposed TransCanada pipeline project.

There was the scandalously cozy relationship between TransCanada and the State Department. TransCanada got booed out of Memorial Stadium, as sacred a place as exists in all of Nebraska. A report (PDF) revealed Valero and other refineries’ plans to export the tar sands crude that would flow through Keystone XL, casting doubt on pipeline proponent’s claims that Canadian tar sands would contribute to American “energy security.” The State Department admitted to losing tens of thousands of public comments about the pipeline. Industry’s claims of Keystone job creation were found to be inflated through fuzzy math and outright fabrication.

I believe that it’s safe to say that none of this would have happened – or at least wouldn’t have been exposed and covered by the mainstream media – without the ongoing attention that the #noKXL movement has been bringing to the pipeline issue.

Bill McKibben of 350.org explained it like such, on behalf of TarSandsAction:

Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

Responding to the (then potential) delay, TransCanada’s chief executive Russ Girling took a threatening tone to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, hinting that any delay could kill the pipeline plans altogether. “How long will those customers wait for Canadian crude oil to get to the marketplace before they sort of throw up their hands and say this is just never going to happen?”

The decision is far from final, and the political manuevering was certainly to put the decision off until after the election. But, for now, what started as incredibly long odds (McKibben himself has said that they were 1,000-to-1 when this campaign started back in the summer), is now totally up in the air.

For now, the delay itself is a victory for pipeline opponents. Every month the decision is deterred, TransCanada loses money and the possibility of abandoning the Keystone XL entirely goes up.

Two years ago, I talked to Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70) after he had been arrested for “disrupting” a government oil and gas lease auction in Utah’s wildlands. One of his responses carries serious resonance through these Keystone XL actions today. DeChristopher told me:
 

You know how Gandhi said you have to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Well the change that most of us wish to see is a carbon tax, but our leaders aren’t doing that for us, so Gandhi’s call is then for us to be the carbon tax. What does that mean – to “be the carbon tax?” To cost the fossil fuel industry money in any way that we can. Getting in their way, slowing them down, shutting them down. Doing whatever we can to be that tax.

Everyone participating in this ongoing Tar Sands Action is “becoming” that carbon tax. They’re slowing down TransCanada, slowing down the movement of that crude, slowing down development of the tar sands, and costing the extractive fossil fuel industries money. It might not break the bank, but in the absence of an “official” price on carbon, it’s the best course that climate activists can take.

Now climate hawks have to remain vigilant to ensure that the Keystone XL pipeline is never built, and none of the other proposed efforts to expand the tar sands development for export markets can be tolerated either.  With the news today from the International Energy Agency that the world is headed for irreversible climate change in the next five years unless we rapidly change our energy system, the planet can’t afford the development of the tar sands.

Don’t take my word for it, here it is in the words of the IEA‘s chief economist:

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.” 

Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013
Ben Jervey is a Senior Fellow for DeSmog and directs the KochvsClean.com project. He is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher, specializing in climate change and energy systems and policy. Ben is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He has also contributed regularly to National Geographic News, Grist, and OnEarth Magazine. He has published three books—on eco-friendly living in New York City, an Energy 101 primer, and, most recently, “The Electric Battery: Charging Forward to a Low Carbon Future.” He graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College, and earned a Master’s in Energy Regulation and Law at Vermont Law School. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

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