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Given the rigid planning of a president's schedule, it seemed but an unhappy coincidence that President Obama was playing golf with oil industry executives exactly when environmental activists were at the White House, protesting the possible approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; but the symbolism could not have been more appropriate. With the State Department's release of its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the pipeline, we now know that a shockingly fundamental dishonesty pervades its approach to Keystone. We must hope that the president who has most fully embraced the scientific consensus on climate change will not now embrace his State Department's fundamental dishonesty. More than anything else he does on climate change, President Obama's legacy on climate change will be defined by his decision on Keystone; but much more than his legacy is at stake.

If it seemed that the State Department's Keystone SEIS was such a deliberate whitewash to green light the pipeline that it could have been written by industry insiders, that's only because it actually was. Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts:

The State Department's "don't worry" environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, released late Friday afternoon, was written not by government officials but by a private company in the pay of the pipeline's owner. The "sustainability consultancy" Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document. The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline's massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable....

The documents from the ERM-TransCanada agreement are on the State Department's website, but payment amounts and other clients and past work of ERM are redacted. In the contract documents, ERM partner Steven J. Koster certifies that his company has no conflicts of interest. He also certifies that ERM has no business relationship with TransCanada or "any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work" (notwithstanding the impact statement contract itself). In a cover letter, Koster promises State Department NEPA Coordinator Genevieve Walker that ERM understands "the need for an efficient and expedited process to meet the demands of the desired project schedule."

An investigation by Inside Climate News finds that ERM's report draws from work done by other oil industry contractors, Ensys Energy and ICF International.

What could possibly be wrong with the oil industry writing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of an oil industry project? Join me below the fold and find out.

As Johnson notes in another post, it even gets surreal, as the SEIS emphasizes that the pipeline will be protected from the very climate change impacts the pipeline itself will exacerbate. On page ES-16 of the SEIS, we find (pdf):

The pipeline would be buried deep enough to avoid surface impacts of climate changes (freeze-thaw cycles, fires, and temperature extremes).
Which is very comforting. The SEIS doesn't bother to note that the pipeline itself will make those protections even more necessary, but it's very comforting that those protections will be there. The pipeline's impact on climate change was summarized by John Abraham:
The pipeline is essential for the expansion of tar-sand production. It is estimated that if the pipeline were approved, the rate of bitumen extraction would increase by 36%. What various industry voices have been trying to tell us is that the tar sands are necessary for friendly US-Canada relations, for jobs, and for energy security. What those industry voices have not told us is that approval of the pipeline would be a nail in the coffin of climate change.

Tar-sand oil is very hard to remove from the ground; it requires enormous amounts of water and energy just to get it to the surface. As a result, it releases more greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuels. It really is the dirtiest of the dirty. Approval of the Keystone pipeline will lock us in to decades of dependency on this dirty energy at a time when we need to develop clean sources of energy.

But do the tar sands really matter that much? The answer is clearly yes. Alberta has 1.8tn barrels of oil contained within the tar sands. Extracting and burning all of that tar will cause a global temperature increase of about 0.4oC (0.7oF). That is about half of the warming that humans have already caused. For perspective, according to a recent study, the amount of oil-in-place in the Alberta tar sands is approximately seven times that of Saudi Arabia's proven reserves.

And while the pipeline itself may be protected from the climate disaster it will make so much worse, the people of this world will not be protected; and in January, Lord Stern, who in 2006 led a review that concluded that climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people, cause the extinction of some 40 percent of all species, and cost 5 to 20 percent of global GDP, admitted that he had actually underestimated the damage.

The dishonesty of the State Department's SEIS continues with this jaw-dropper:

Spills associated with the proposed Project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small.
Which would be news to those already impacted by the existing pipeline's neither rare nor relatively small spills.

The reaction to the SEIS has been blunt, and Kevin Grandia has compiled a list that must be read in its entirety. Among them have been NRDC Canada Project Director Danielle Droitsch:

A draft environmental review just released by the U.S. State Department for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ignores mounting evidence the pipeline is not in the national interest.  NRDC has completed a preliminary review of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and concludes that the State Department failed to account for the pipeline’s impact to water and climate.  There is now significant evidence the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would help trigger a major expansion to tar sands development leading to a sizeable increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that a spill of tar sands oil from Keystone XL would pose much greater risks to precious waterways across America’s heartland.   Despite this evidence, the State Department found there would be no significant impact to the environment if the pipeline were approved.  We disagree.  President Obama should reject this draft environmental review and tell the State Department to re-examine the evidence that shows the pipeline isn’t good for the climate, or water protection, or energy security.
And Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Committee:
The draft impact statement appears to be seriously flawed.  We don’t need this dirty oil.  To stop climate change and the destructive storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires that we are already experiencing, we should be investing in clean energy, not building a pipeline that will speed the exploitation of Canada’s highly polluting tar sands.
And Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN):
We cannot stress our extreme disappointment with this report.  The fact that the Keystone XL pipeline is deemed as non-consequential and not connected to the unabated expansion of Tar Sands is simply not true.

Without adequate roadways to markets the tar sands would be locked in the ground. Industry simply cannot expand without pipelines.  Expansion of the tar sands in my peoples homelands means a death sentence for our way for life, destruction of eco-systems vital to the continuation of our inherent treaty rights and massive contributions to catastrophic global climate change, a fate we all share.

Of course, the Petroleum Institute had a different reaction:
American Petroleum Institute Executive Vice President Marty Durbin welcomed the State Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for the new Keystone XL Nebraska route.

“No matter how many times KXL is reviewed, the result is the same: no significant environmental impact,” said Durbin. “The latest impact statement from the State Department puts this important, job-creating project one step closer to reality. Nebraska has finished its final Keystone XL assessment and the governor has given it his full support. The last approval needed is by President Obama, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible."

Of course, it's a lie that the pipeline will create significant numbers of jobs. The earlier Environmental Impact Statement estimated no more than 500 to 900 local jobs would be created throughout the entire construction throughout the entire region, and the new SEIS estimates no more than a few dozen permanent jobs, once the pipeline has been built. A 2011 study by the Cornell Global Labor Institute found that Keystone may actually destroy more jobs than it creates, and of course neither the fossil fuels industries, nor apparently the State Department that outsourced the SEIS to the fossil fuels industry, seems to care that the pipeline will damage the economy, overall.

Some argue that the tar sands will be exploited with or without U.S. help, but Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska explains:

Tarsands does not expand unless Keystone XL is built. The State Department's assumption that tarsands development does not change with or without this pipeline is wrong and laughable. Why would TransCanada spend billions on building the pipeline and millions on lobbying unless this piece of infrastructure is the--not a--but the lynchpin for the expansion of tarsands. Without this pipeline Canada stays at 2 million barrels a day, with it they get 3 million barrels a day. The President has the ability to keep a million barrels of tarsands in the ground a day. With a stroke of a pen he can protect property rights, water and make a dent in climate change. This report is laughable using the wrong assumption and therefore the wrong science.
And even more to the point, if this president and this nation are to be serious about dealing with the climate crisis, he and we cannot make excuses for expanding use of even more difficult and dangerous to extract fossil fuels, when all our focus should be on weaning ourselves of fossil fuels altogether.

As the graph at the top of this post indicates, we are nearing a level of 400 parts per million atmospheric carbon dioxide. As Peter Gleick recently explained, the planet has not even approached such a level in at least 800,000 years, and it might not have seen those levels in more than 2.6 million years. We have to act as if climate change is an unprecedented crisis, because in the history of the human species, it is. The four-star commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific is calling climate change the most likely threat that will cripple the security environment, and the U.S. Navy has for years been planning how to secure an ice free arctic. A new study shows global temperatures are the highest in 4000 years.

It shouldn't need to be said, but finding new and more destructive means of burning fossil fuels is not the answer. It shouldn't need to be said, but a White House that, unlike the Republicans, acknowledges and understands the scientific consensus on climate change has no excuse not to be doing everything it can to address climate change. The president's positive steps, including increased fuel efficiency standards and EPA regulation of emissions, isn't enough. There is no halfway, on climate change. There is no balancing between good policies and terrible policies. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) put it:

The president cannot tell us that he is concerned about global warming and approve the Keystone XL project.
If the president is concerned about global warming, he will reject Keystone. If he approves Keystone, all his positive efforts on global warming, both as policy and politics, will be effectively for naught.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Climate Change SOS, Climate Hawks, and Science Matters.

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