5 things you need to know about the State Department’s Keystone XL environmental impact assessment

By: Hannah McKinnon | Published by Environmental Defence on March 2, 2013:

Aerial view of a tar sands mine in Alberta.

Aerial view of a tar sands mine in Alberta.

When the State Department in the U.S. released a draft environmental impact assessment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Friday, reaction across the continent was fast and furious.

Here are a few key things that you need to know about this report.

1. The missing climate piece

Without the Keystone XL pipeline, the tar sands cannot continue to expand at the current reckless rate. Government knows it. Industry knows it. Economists know it. Without new pipelines to move tar sands, there is no point in digging it up. While Keystone is not the only kid on the block, the other major new tar sand’s pipeline proposals (Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and and Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain) are facing such formidable opposition in Canada that there’s no shovel in sight. Proposals to retrofit existing pipelines, like Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal, are also facing opposition. This is despite the recent gutting of Canada’s own environmental laws to fast track them.

The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of climate pollution. They will cancel out every single other effort in the country to fight global warming over the next 7 years (and this is just counting production, before you even get around to burning them). The Canadian Government has no rules in place to control this.

The growth projected in the tar sands – and therefore the ‘inevitable growth’ assumed by the State Department – is in line with the International Energy Agency’s model for 6 degrees Celsius of global warming. This is three times warmer than the 2 degrees Celsius of warming our governments’ have promised to avoid. The State Department would be irresponsible to continue to ignore this fact.

President Obama has been clear that he is ready to face the climate crisis head on. Doing so means rejecting Keystone XL based on its impact on climate change.

2. All about export

Experts have concluded that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a pipeline, “through America, not to it.” Big oil in the tar sands is desperate to get this oil off of the continent so that it can be mixed into the world market, where it will make them a bigger profit.

All of the cases being made about energy independence ignore this. And, they ignore the more fundamental point that the only real way to be secure in a world threatened by climate catastrophe is to build an energy future that is based on safe, clean and renewable energy.

3. Who benefits?

The Keystone tar sands pipeline would make Big Oil billions, but what about the rest of us?

Analysis has shown that job creation from the pipeline is much less than industry touts, while the risks of tar sands spills can destroy livelihoods and ecosystems for decades, and the economic costs of climate change are unmanageable.

In the tar sands themselves, First Nation’s rights are not being respected and some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world are little more than dumping grounds for toxic waste.

The winners and losers here are clear. Big Oil wins with Keystone and everyone else loses.

4. Now it is our turn

This draft report is now open for 45 days of public consultation. The public engagement and participation around the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been like nothing the United States has ever seen on an environmental issue. As recently as two weeks ago, 50,000 people assembled outside of the White House to demand the President live up to his climate promises and reject the pipeline. This is just the most recent of a series of historic public mobilizations on both sides of the border, and public concern that exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Now it is our turn to weigh in again.

5. President Obama has the final say

The President has promised action on climate change, he has promised to be the President that frees the U.S. from the tyranny of oil, slows the rise of the oceans, and the President that finally leads the U.S. as it steps up to face its global responsibility to prevent the worst of dangerous climate change.

Given this, rejecting Keystone XL is the only decision that can be made.

A final thought – we will never give up!

If you asked around 5 years ago, no one would have predicted that the Keystone XL pipeline and the Alberta tar sands would become a flashpoint issue in D.C.. It has, and it is because of a movement that refuses to sit idly and watch the destruction of our climate and our environment all in the name of big oil.

This movement is inspired, driven, and most importantly, we are right. We will win.

A summary of reactions from colleagues on both sides of the border can be found here on DeSmog Blog.

Hannah McKinnon is the National Program Manager at Environmental Defence. She’s has worked on climate change and energy issues for almost a decade, with experience ranging from adaptation and risk management in Central America, to national and international climate policy and advocacy in Canada. She’s working to ensure that Canada moves towards safe, clean and renewable energy and away from reckless expansion of the tar sands. Hannah has a M.Sc. in Science and Society from the London School of Economics, a B.Sc. Hon. in Biochemistry from Mount Allison University and studied at Lester B. Pearson United World College.

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