Did Obama just kill Keystone XL?

Not necessarily, but his new policy makes it less likely the administration will approve the pipeline

Topics: Keystone XL pipeline, Barack Obama, State DEpartment, EPA, Global Warming, Climate Change, greenhouse-gas emissions, 350.org, ,

Did Obama just kill Keystone XL? A 2011 Keystone video protest outside the White House (Wikimedia)

Just ahead of the president’s big speech on climate change, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein breaks the news that President Obama will ask Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline if State finds the pipeline increases carbon emissions. It’s huge news that took environmentalists completely by surprise. They didn’t expect the president to address Keystone in his speech — he’s avoided discussing the pipeline at all since issuing an executive order to have State study the environmental impact some time ago.

So is this the end of Keystone? Stein says the “policy somewhat splits the difference — not killing the project outright, but ensuring that it meets a basic environmental standard.”

Environmentalists are thrilled, but reserving a healthy skepticism because there’s still a big “if” here.

While it may seem obvious that the pipeline would increase emissions (and most climate scientists have said it would), the State Department’s initial environmental impact statement (EIS) concluded the pipeline would have negligible impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, because oil sands from Alberta would still be transported via rail or other pipelines if Keystone XL was never built. The assessment, written by a contractor that was seen as overly friendly to the industry, was immediately controversial and even drew criticism from the EPA. It’s currently under review.

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Still, there’s no doubt that this a move in the right direction, considering that most advocates expected the administration to approve the pipeline. “It’s damn encouraging. The nation’s top climate scientists have told the president that Keystone will increase emissions, as did the EPA. Based on his criteria, Obama cannot approve Keystone,” Daniel Kessler of 350.org, which has led the campaign again Keystone, told Salon.

Another advocate told us that while he’s still parsing the new policy, “if carbon emissions are the president’s criteria on Keystone, then he must reject the pipeline because it definitely will increase emissions.”

Alex Seitz-Wald
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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