Monday, February 03, 2014

Rubber Hits The Road-- Will Obama Give In To The Keystone XL Polluters?


A few days ago I was having dinner with some friends at my favorite vegetarian restaurant in L.A., Crossroads on Melrose, when one of California's most effective and persistent environmental activists, Steve Bing, came over and sat down. "You've got to do more to stop this Keystone XL pipeline." I don't want to repeat what he said about John Kerry but he kept urging me to work harder in the netroots to keep Obama from OK-ing the agreement. Me? He's Steve Bing. I just have a blog that points out that kind of transpartisan corruption that wrecks accountability in politics. He's one of the most influential men in America.

The next day I spoke to my friend Betsy Taylor, head of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions in Takoma Park, Maryland. She works with the most influential activists and philanthropists in North America on existential social problems like Climate Change. She shared a letter with me that her network had just sent to President Obama. I don't think it's out of line for me to share it here at DWT.
Dear President Obama,

We write to you with renewed hope and urgency about America’s response to climate disruption.

Your speech at Georgetown University in June was historic: the first time an American President has tackled the challenge squarely, with a strong executive plan and a passionate call for engagement. Meanwhile, the facts on the ground-- documented in the IPCC’s new report and illustrated from the Rockaways to the Philippines-- confirm that we must do more. Your Climate Action Plan represents real progress in reducing carbon pollution, preparing for inevitable impacts, and exerting American leadership in international climate initiatives. Your commitment to place responsible limits on carbon pollution from large existing sources is particularly crucial. We know how difficult it will be to implement those limits, and we are with you in that fight-- to win!

We especially appreciate your commitment to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline if it significantly increases climate pollution. In making climate impact a threshold condition for evaluating Keystone XL, you established a vital principle: we can’t keep pouring new capital investment into making the climate crisis worse. The International Energy Agency announced this year that most proven fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned if we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate disruption. Huge new commitments to long- lived fossil fuel infrastructure make it virtually impossible to keep that “unburnable carbon” in the ground.

Such a step backwards would be particularly tragic now, because the prospects for real solutions have never been brighter. In the private sector and in our communities, the pace of clean energy innovation is accelerating. From crowd-financing for solar energy and efficiency, to electric-vehicle technology, to the proliferation of new transportation choices in our cities, solutions are rapidly becoming more available, more effective, and cheaper. Your bold stimulus program in 2009 and 2010 helped spark many of today’s successful clean-energy initiatives, and a new generation of young innovators and leaders are driving these solutions forward.

As we adopt more and better clean energy innovations and climate reality begins to set in, fossil fuel markets are beginning to contract. Our biggest fear is not that we can’t develop enough solutions; it is that huge, new, long-term commitments to fossil fuel infrastructure will needlessly prolong fossil fuel addiction past the point of no return for a livable climate. We find the argument that Keystone XL will not increase emissions disturbingly fatalistic. It rests on the assumption that the tar sands will be fully exploited with or without this pipeline. But other routes to market, including shipping crude by rail, are considered by oil industry analysts to be much less economically viable (which is, of course, why the Keystone route was chosen.) Furthermore, the tar sands are one of the major global carbon reserves that must remain substantially unburned if we are to avert chaotic climate disruption. Assuming that they will be fully developed is simply capitulating. The tenor and content of your climate speech suggested strongly that you mean to do the opposite.

The “no impact” argument also ignores the crucially important effect of large capital investments on energy markets. Keystone XL will facilitate further exploitation of tar sands by “sinking” capital, tipping the balance of incentives toward more production. These capital investments “lock in” emission increases for decades, creating overwhelming economic pressure to keep digging and burning, and squandering the capital we need for solutions. They make the problem not just worse but intractable.

No single pipeline represents a large proportion of the vast sum of global emissions.
But Keystone XL is substantively important. It is a big, conspicuous example of what we must categorically avoid: long-term commitments that drive us deeper into fossil fuel dependence and keep us stuck there. Whether it is the ideal test of your Administration’s resolve on climate is beside the point. It is, as history would have it, the real-world test, the one that will for better or worse be remembered as the watershed. The decision is about more than the pipeline; it’s about the principle you laid out, the principle that we must stop making the climate crisis worse.

Keystone XL has become a line in the sand for the climate movement for one other simple, crucial reason: The decision is yours. Only one human being is the world’s most powerful leader at this moment-- the first moment when we have truly come face-to-face with the dimensions of the climate crisis, and very likely the last moment when we can commit ourselves to solutions before climate disruption spins out of control. Your decision on Keystone XL will be the most visible, direct thing you do with your power in this fateful time. It will be the most potent signal you send-- to the world, to Americans, to our kids-- about our collective determination to do what is right and necessary to respond to this crisis.

We remain hopeful, because the person with this power is you.
And, speaking of letters to the top brass, Tom Steyer sent one to Kerry today. By all means, read the entire letter at the link. I just want to point out a few points Steyer made, as the White House seems to head down a disastrous path-- disastrous for the country and disastrous politically for the Democratic Party. Steyer wants an independent and transparent review of the FEIS report that came out Friday.
[S]tatements from the tar sands executives and the NextGen Climate Action report make clear the pipeline would fail the test established by the President during his speech at Georgetown last June: that no project that increases the amount of air pollution will be approved.

However, and despite the fact that some of the aforementioned assertions from tar sands executives were made as recently as last week, it does not appear that any of these representations were considered in the FEIS.

How can the foreign companies who stand to financially benefit from the approval of the KXL pipeline assert that the pipeline is the key to their ability to develop the tar sands without these assertions being considered material to this report? This was a report that was designed to analyze exactly this issue of whether or not the pipeline would affect the development of the tar sands.

TransCanada and the tar sands lobby has time and time again justified the development of the pipeline by making the public policy argument that the pipeline would support U.S. oil independence.  But TransCanada has refused to commit to keeping the refined oil in the United States.

However, as you are aware from your time in Congress, while TransCanada’s CEO has asserted that “every” drop of crude would stay in the United States, company officials have refused to testify to this when appearing before Congress. And to this day, TransCanada has refused to explain whether or not the refined oil will be shipped to economic competitors such as China, which has a significant investment in the project.

…I have long said that Keystone is a pipeline that runs through-- but no to-- the United States. If the press reporting is accurate, it would now appear that foreign interests have a direct pipeline into the decision-making process of the U.S. government, which is simply unconscionable.

For all of these reasons, especially in the context of global climate change, it is critical that an independent and transparent review of the FEIS, and the process undertaken for its preparation, commence immediately. It is inappropriate and unfair to provide President Obama-- who has stated that climate change is a fact and even articulated a clear test for the approval of a project such as the KXL pipeline-- with a report that is not only on its face defective, but which has suffered from a process that raises serious questions about the integrity of the document.
Marianne Williamson, the woman likely to take over the seat of retiring Congressman Henry Waxman, is as dedicated to green energy and environmental progress as Waxman. Yesterday, she told me that "the government issued a report that gives the President a pass on saving our environment, and it's just another ho hum day. That's the worst part of it... Not  just the obvious acquiescence to corporate interests, but the fact that it all appears to be orchestrated like a piece of theatre. The people don't even EXPECT our government to protect the common good anymore, and that's what's so terribly corrosive.

"This is not just about the Keystone pipeline; it's about huge institutional resistance to our getting off of fossil fuels. Climate change represents a clear and present danger to the future not only of our country but to life on earth. Yet  81% of our energy continues to come from fossil fuels that pollute our air and water-- causing global warming and weather disruption more intense with each passing year.

"This is all a part of the dark drama of our current politics: Our reliance on oil makes us dependent on energy supplies from other countries, particularly in the Middle East, drawing us more easily into military actions to defend access to oil. And the federal government supports the use of fossil fuels by handing out massive tax breaks and subsidies to energy companies that are among the most profitable corporations in the world (the top five oil companies made $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011, yet they receive $10-52 billion in tax breaks and subsidies every year).

Legalized corruption makes it almost impossible to truly take on the power of Exxon-Mobil and other oil giants that receive massive tax breaks from the government. Once again, until we deal with the issue of money’s undue influence on our political system, none of this will truly change."

Marianne, like Bernie Sanders, will caucus with the Democrats and, like him, will be independent enough of internal party agendas to speak out loud and strong the way most Democrats-- even some of our most progressive friends-- often fear to do. We need lots candidates like Marianne Williamson-- not just "more and better Democrats"… "better than Democrats!"

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At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama said he would "reject the Keystone XL Pipeline if it significantly increases climate pollution."

At that point some of us more cynical types immediately knew what the State Dept impact study would conclude.

A couple days ago, to sum up a Guardian article, the State Dept has determined there is "no significant effect on carbon emissions likely" from the project.

Despite the fact this is complete and total bullshit, it IS the only and the precise critical condition set forth by Obama.

When has he ever acted contrary to his advisors, especially after they have returned to him the exact assessment he required?

John Puma

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Sandra Fluke gets in the Waxman district race, will she split the Dem/progressive vote and allow a conservative to win? Doesn't Cali have a mixed primary system now? Thanks.


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