HUGE news from the US yesterday. The U.S. State Department has ordered an in-depth environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route.
President Obama was due to make a decision on whether to approve the project next month, but this announcement will now delay any decision for up to 18 months.
This saga has dragged on for months now, with protest and arrest outside the White House in Washington, outside the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, and even a letter of concern from Nobel Peace Laureates including the Dalai Lama!
Each week it seems, a new revelation has surfaced about the underhanded and irresponsible ways in which the White House was being lobbied by oil interest groups, and the aggressive ways in which TransCanada (the developer) was securing access to lands along the pipeline route via gagging orders.
The US State Department’s handling of the $7bn (£4.4bn) project is already under review for alleged wrongdoing, with their Inspector General recently making the decision to conduct a “special review” of the department’s analysis of TransCanada’s proposals.
The Department came under intense scrutiny by environmental groups earlier this year when it emerged that they passed responsibility for the environmental review, now the focus of most of the uproar, into the hands of a single, inexperienced staffer and a contractor with ties to the energy industry, while disregarding other more experienced agencies.
As a comparison, The Huffington Post noted how when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently evaluated a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through Manhattan into New Jersey, a team of eight experts from its compliance division contributed to the draft environmental impact statement, including a geologist, a chemical engineer, an anthropologist, even a rocket scientist, plus input from an outside consulting firm. By contrast, the environmental reviews by State (including all the drafts for Keystone XL) rely solely on the expertise of a contractor with ties to TransCanada.
The State Department’s haste and perceived ineptitude in handing the review to a client of the developer left it exposed to criticism that it panders to the oil industry or is simply derelict in carrying out its regulatory responsibilities.
The US Environment Protection Agency then weighed in, publishing the most damning assessment yet, deeming the analysis of the Keystone XL’s necessity “unduly narrow” and asserting that the environmental impacts had not been “fully analyzed.” EPA also charged that the State Department had not fully considered the impacts of a potential oil spill along the pipeline or proposed sufficient alternative routes.
To top it all off, it recently emerged that the State Department had apparently ‘lost’ 94,000 public submissions offered and recorded at their public consultations along the pipeline route. See more on that story at ‘Public comments on Keystone Pipeline have disappeared into a procedural black hole’.
In his statement yesterday, President Obama said:
"I support the State Department’s announcement today regarding the need to seek additional information. We should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood."
This means the Keystone XL project is to get a thorough and INDEPENDENT assessment. Not some review conducted by organisations who count TransCanada as one of their customers.
The delay of any decision has pissed TransCanada off, not least because they have already begun stockpiling miles of pipeline in places like North Dakota.
CEO Russ Girling said:
This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed. If Keystone XL dies, Americans will still wake up the next morning and continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security. That would be a tragedy”
TransCanada in the mean time continue to prattle on about the 20,000 jobs the project will create, but those have been independently disputed, and the CEO even recently admitted they had misrepresented the number of jobs the controversial Keystone XL project would create.
Bill McKibben of Tar Sands Action took heart from the news, saying:
"It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. 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.
The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.”
He knows full well however, that this could just be political manoeuvring by Obama. The delay will push the pipeline decision into 2013, way into the next Presidential term, sparing the President the possibility of a vote-losing policy so close to the elections. And if the Democrats are ousted completely, it will just become the responsibility of the Republican administration and the blame will shift if it gets approved…..which you’d expect it to under Republican oversight.
But perhaps we can risk a little optimism and do away with cynicism, seeing as it was Obama himself who back in 2008 said:
Maybe, just maybe, he meant it. Eurgh, it doesn’t feel natural doing away with cynicism in politics does it?
But what of Canada? What has their response been to all this?
PM Stephen Harper isn’t best pleased. Rabble.ca yesterday wrote in an article called ‘With Keystone XL all but dead, Harper’s no-brainer is now his migraine’:
"The news out of Washington came just as new Alberta Premier Alison Redford and a small army of industry lobbyists and politicians were buying airline tickets to join Harper’s man in Washington — Gary Doer — in a desperate attempt to reverse the tide after 12,000 protesters surrounded the White House last weekend.
They can all stay home now and reflect on yet another embarrassment for Canada, which has now been told by a foreign government that its economic development model is unacceptable. Yes, the Obama decision is ostensibly to study a new route around the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, but XL did not go down on that issue alone.
Here is the no-brainer that Stephen Harper should have figured out. If your product is seen as a global environmental nightmare, and if your failure to demonstrate that it is produced in a sustainable framework creates nothing but controversy for your only major customer, having some oil left in the ground is the least of your problems.”
And what will this mean for the inclusion of tar sands oil in the European Union’s Fuel Directive? Canadian lobbying has been intense in obstructing the Directive, encouraging spineless nations like the UK to side with them in favour of their oil companies and pension investments. But if the US is seen to be turning away from Albertan oil, could that make it more likely that the EU will get what they want, a higher cost for tar sands oil?
Canadian Oil Minister Joe Oliver said a US decision to delay or cancel the pipeline would not stop oil sands development in the province of Alberta. If you ask me, that reaction has been like a stroppy 9yr old kid, whose best mate’s dad has just paid him a visit and said:
"Sorry lad, but America won’t be coming out to play today. I hear the two of you shoot squirrels after school and I don’t want my son having anything to do with it. I think you’re a bad influence on my son and I want the two of you to spend less time together."
To which Kanada Kid says:
"Yeah well, whatever, I’m like, still gonna do it by myself even if he’s not allowed to come any more. So there!"
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- Canada accused of SERIOUS lobbying in Europe
- Judge kicks Canadian Govt up the arse to protect caribou
- Alberta stops Cree Nation from getting free legal representation