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Republicans Escalate Pressure to Hold Payroll Tax Cut Hostage to Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted December 16, 2011

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NRDC remains strongly opposed to any attempts by Republicans in Congress to force the President to expedite the review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  The President has said it would take a least a year to do a proper review of the route and broader impact of the pipeline on the health and safety of Americans.  He should not be strong-armed into a decision by Big Oil interests. Any Keystone XL rider should be rejected and not be allowed into legislation.  If it passes, the Administration needs to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest and will hurt jobs, security, health and environment.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline rider currently proposed for inclusion in the payroll tax-cut legislation would force the President to make an uninformed decision on the pipeline within 60 days, pre-approving a route through Nebraska before it has even been proposed. This would short-circuit the environmental review process for the pipeline. In November, the Administration decided that an additional year of environmental review, especially of alternative routes, was necessary before it could make a decision.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would take our country backwards, not forwards.  We need clean energy policies that create permanent jobs in manufacturing fuel efficient cars, weatherizing our homes, and building solar panels and wind turbines. These policies would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

The Administration should not be forced to make a premature decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. However, if so forced, the only decision should be a rapid rejection of the pipeline. On December 12, 2011, the State Department said that if the bill passes, it would reject the pipeline. “Should Congress impose an arbitrary deadline for the permit decision, its actions would not only compromise the process, it would prohibit the Department from acting consistently with National Environmental Policy Act requirements by not allowing sufficient time for the development of this information. In the absence of properly completing the process, the Department would be unable to make a determination to issue a permit for this project.” The Administration needs to live up to this commitment.

Myths and scary stories have been circulated repeatedly by the oil industry and Republicans. Let’s debunk these myths once again:

Despite the hype, the pipeline is not a jobs plan: According to the pipeline company itself, the pipeline would create only a few hundred permanent jobs and the State Department estimates no more than 6,500 temporary jobs.  The only independent study found that it would in fact kill more jobs than it would create by suppressing clean energy jobs.  See our fact sheet on why the pipeline is not a “jobs plan.” The same thing is being said by many others including on NPR, the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  It is crystal clear that the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of jobs being cynically dangled before the public are fantasy at best.

This pipeline will not create energy security.  Instead it will perpetuate our addiction to oil and open up a global market for tar sands oil through the Gulf of Mexico.  Brigadier General Steven Anderson, former Chief Logistician in Iraq and Afghanistan serving under General Petraeus, said the following: “My experiences in Iraq convinced me that the greatest threat to our security is our over-reliance on oil and that Americans must immediately take steps to cut our petro-addiction before it’s too late.  The Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t help.  This pipeline would move dirty oil from Canada to refineries in Texas and would set back our renewable energy efforts for at least two decades, and do absolutely nothing to move us off Middle East oil, to our enemies’ delight.  It would ensure we maintain our oil addiction and delay making the tough decisions regarding energy production, management and conservation that we need to start making today.”

Our access to tar sands won’t dry up. The implication that Canada has a take it or leave it strategy built around the Keystone XL pipeline is ludicrous. We get almost one million barrels of Alberta’s tar sands every day. That isn’t going to change. It does not go away, regardless of what happens with Keystone XL which is more about diverting supply to the Gulf Coast for export than it is about increasing supply for Americans.

Tar sands does not have a viable path to China. The threat that a pipeline to Canada’s west coast will be built if Keystone XL is delayed or cancelled is part B of the effort to make China and Asia’s emerging markets into a petroleum-sucking bogeyman. And make no mistake, Big Oil desperately wants access to those markets---it is one of the main reasons for Keystone XL. Too bad it is physically and politically impossible right now. The proposed pipeline to the Canadian west coast---Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project---has been delayed for a year by Canadian regulators while they listen to a massive wave of public feedback expressing the same climate and safety concerns that have slowed the pipeline to Houston. That project is unlikely to be built.

And of course, the biggest issues are being lost in this debate:

Safety: While the pipeline builder has agreed to shift the project’s route in Nebraska in response to overwhelming public safety concerns, no map of the alternate has yet to be produced, leaving Husker nation in the dark about whether significant changes have been made or the agreement is simply lip service to speed the project along. It is pretty hard to imagine how regulators can make a responsible decision on this project if they do not even know where the pipeline will run.

Climate: As carbon emissions have increased to their highest recorded levels, this pipeline would add nearly a million additional barrels of the dirtiest oil on the planet into the mix. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s own numbers tar sands greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise and tar sands is getting dirtier, not cleaner.

Public Concern: The implication that this is just a pet issue for environmentalists is just wrong. Major companies, mayors, farmers, religious leaders, business leaders, scientists, veterans, workers and many others across North America is saying no to tar sands.

Republicans seem more interested in handing Big Oil a freebie than in taking care of the interests of the American public. There should be no deal on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

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Mark WendmanDec 17 2011 12:51 PM

regarding this comment -
"Tar sands does not have a viable path to China. The threat that a pipeline to Canada’s west coast will be built if Keystone XL is delayed or cancelled is part B of the effort to make China and Asia’s emerging markets into a petroleum-sucking bogeyman. And make no mistake, Big Oil desperately wants access to those markets---it is one of the main reasons for Keystone XL. Too bad it is physically and politically impossible right now. The proposed pipeline to the Canadian west coast---Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project---has been delayed for a year by Canadian regulators while they listen to a massive wave of public feedback expressing the same climate and safety concerns that have slowed the pipeline to Houston. That project is unlikely to be built."

Evidently the route from Alberta to the planned pacific coast tar sands oil terminal is being surveyed presently, and that planned pipeline is being paid for by the Chinese. I would ask why you ignore that and claim the contrary?

Per a comment poster at BI Business Insider, the following is occurring

"james herman on Dec 17, 7:39 AM said:
Indeed as i write this the stakes are literally being driven by surveying crews through the Canadian Rockies where the pipeline will in fact be built. The funding has been virtually guaranteed by the Chinese National Oil Company. Companies in China are in fact building, now, the terminal port equipment for installation at the pipeline terminus.

I'd tend to believe him, which calls into question several of your claims.
The Chinese will build the tar sands pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific, and ignoring that is irresponsible.

Another Point, the jobs tally of negligible long term jobs from the pipeline is incorrect as the majority of jobs and revenues will be in the refineries in the Houston area. And that is considerably larger than you cite.

Claims that cleantech will suffer is dubious.

Furthermore, the most viable manner to lick GHG increases in a timely manner at scale, is safer nuclear. It exists ( the needed safe nuclear technology impossible to suffer a meltdown of fuel or molten breach of the reactor containment vessel). It would have averted any possibility of a TMI or Fukushima event completely, and Chernobyl, as no meltdown occurs upon total loss of coolant in the safest nuclear power technology.

The proven safe nuclear power reactor exists already.

It is called CANDU - a Canadian reactor technology that has operated for near 40 years, 25+ installations, no chance of ever suffering either fuel or reactor containment meltdown, due to purpose designed lower energy density in the core ( only marginally more costly, hugely safer, as no meltdown is possible ).

This is aside from safest Thorium fuel cycle of alternate reactor technologies ( experimental reactor built decades ago, but potentially far safer ), which has future potential but no proven commercial track record yet.

Read more about the CANDU reactor safety design and the thoughts about design decisions here, written by one of the physicist designers

If CANDU reactors were made a world standard ( ie required ), nuclear accidents of a meltdown nature would be vanquished. And GHG global warming might be reversed in a timely manner, if it replaced ALL carbon emitting power plants worldwide, and safety of nuclear power worldwide would increase hugely if CANDUs replaced ALL present and future reactors.

Some folks contemplate new smaller reactor designs might solve present problems, yet if the smaller reactors increase maintenance overhead, I doubt that considerably. Also any non heavy water ( ie light water ) reactor, operated at high energy density is a latent risk for catastrophic reactor fuel and containment meltdown - ALWAYS, "if the right safety systems fail".

Lower power density reactors ( uncommon in use ) mitigate this risk somewhat, but heavy water coolant further adds safety due to its role as a neutron moderator, needed to sustain fission rates. Loss of heavy water coolant stops the reactor (fission rates ) in a heavy water reactor such as CANDU. CANDU is intrinsically safe with respect to fuel and containment vessel meltdown due to combination of lower power densities and heavy water neutron moderator.

FWIW Photovoltaics power is almost stupid to consider as a grid scale power source ( distributed on rooftops OR in photovoltaic solar farms). The reason is the electrical havoc on the grid created by Photovoltaics power installed without commensurate short term and overnite electrical ( battery ) energy storage is (technically) nuts. This is because unbuffered photovoltaics suffers fast transient outages from passing clouds, and has without electrical energy storage no overnite power production. Scale the passing cloud outages to grid scale and the grid will suffer huge increases in wearout and even chronic damage.

Molten Salt (high) Concentrating Solar Thermal ( electrical ) Power generation solves Photovoltaics hidden battery costs delayed by irresponsibly installing naked Photovoltaics. Short term and overnite power storage in MS CSP is implemented by adding inexpensive Molten Salt STORAGE TANKS, and as such MSCSP easily provides quality grid scale power, that Naked PV cannot do but with later hugely expensive batteries ( there are R&D attempts at far cheaper battery technologies, none is ready for wide scale deployment in 5 years for certain ). MSCSP can go grid scale NOW cost effectively, and avoid all the power problems that Unbuffered PV will cause if scaled to a significant fraction of grid scale.

Passing cloud Photovoltic power ( outage ) transients, at grid scale will potentially incur large damage to the grid regularly, if PV is deployed at the intended massive scale. Not merely the inconvenience of outages ( intolerable in factories and computer centers ), but transformer and wiring damage from too regular grid surges ( fast turn off, fast ramp up, creating massive current and voltage surges ).

Passing cloud transients in PV power generation can not be remedied by the cheapest power storage - Pumped Hydro, since the time scale is too short to ramp up and ramp down Pumped Hydro auxiliary power to compensate for fast passing cloud outages. Pumped hydro is suitable "electrical energy storage" for overnite power production, but not capable of "fast transient response: needed for passing cloud outages.

Also apparently the other prior tar sands pipeline apparently already passes over the Ogalla aquifer ( as do other pipelines purportedly pass over aquifers - see the comments at the BI article ). It might be a decent prudent idea to change the right of way to avoid that, but it is not as big a deal as cited, as many pipelines already operate safely over many aquifers.

You seem to ignore the benefits of sourcing oil from Canada, versus sourcing oil from the unstable Middle East, and this is troubling.

You seem to ignore that the approval of the pipeline is merely delayed a year ( to please your attys ), and whether the route is changed to skirt the Ogalla aquifer is unclear ( it is sensible, but the decision should not take a year plus ).

You seem to ignore that oil is needed, and avoiding or reducing dependency on the unstable mideast is sensible policy.
You seem to ignore that the Chinese have invested in the Tar Sands, and will get the oil, but avoiding building the needed Keystone XL pipeline will give more of the oil to China and less to the USA. Once the Alberta to Pacific pipeline is built, and keystone XL is delayed, a rather undesirable dynamic comes into play from this, and you ignore the oil will get shipped somewhere, it may as well be to here, to support US companies, and not the Chinese. Your arguments are massively irresponsible and I dare say self serving, and in several cases flat out incorrect.

I'd guess while your intentions might be laudable, the arguments are weak, the potential damage if a Tar Sands pipeline is not built to Houston, damage to the US economy is large ( not revenue of attorneys of NRDC and affiliates, but real jobs and real businesses in the USA )

If you want to significantly reduce carbon emissions Safe Nuclear ( not present light water reactors ) exists, and is actually cost effective, and non carbon emitting, and commercially ready for large scale deployment cost effectively, far more cost effectively than any solar power.

Honestly, NRDC and Sierra Club needs more technically skilled folks on staff, and fewer ill advised poorly thought out strategies, as evidenced by your writing.

Jerry BishopDec 17 2011 03:23 PM

Well it appears everyone is caving and it will happen.

bob evingerDec 17 2011 08:32 PM

the xl pipeline is a major republican carbon bomb. their gift for under the christmas tree.
mcconnell is saying that the "unions" are supporting the xl pipeline. is that true? or lies coming from transcanada? unions and the environmental community need to stand shoulder to shoulder on issues like this. otherwise the 1% will run roughshod over both of us.
"clean" coal, nuclear, deeper and deeper ocean drilling, fracking, tar sands and the transport of all of the above are increasing the carbon load to the atmosphere. 2011 may go down as the hottest on record. but the temptation of a few jobs, no matter how few and temporary, is the republican bait to distract us from the real issue. "look over there!"

Mark WendmanDec 19 2011 10:37 PM

Dear Bob,

re > "the xl pipeline is a major republican carbon bomb."

Given the tar sands extraction has substantial pent up demand from China ( a large partner in one of the tar sands fields ) and pent up demand from India, the tar sands will get developed to a larger extent than you care to admit.

The Alberta to Pacific terminal pipeline is presently being surveyed ( whether you care to admit or not ) and that project is largely bankrolled by China. It will likely get expedited and might end up raising oil costs in the USA due to providing actual competition with transport south of the Cdn-US border even on the present Keystone pipeline..

The claims that the Keystone XL pipeline will not create or sustain US jobs ignores the refinery jobs in Houston, and this is material.

Better use of the efforts spent by NRDC and other allies might be to help expedite R&D and implementation of less polluting means of extraction of oil from the Tar Sands. It is doable, and likely even practical. Blocking protests are just infantile, even if hoped for as well intentioned. Sometimes ( here for instance ) the better choice overall is to help improve methods to reduce the carbon footprint, and do so effectively. But that takes technical insight that is requiring considerably more talent than evidenced by protest only strategies.

Given that Canada has placed a $9B order for F35 Stealth fighters, you are naive to think there is not a quid pro quo ( not certain, but sure looks like it ). And I doubt anythign can change the likely dynamics there, on either side, evne if you were thrown a bone for a delay of Keystone XL, I doubt after the election any president will cause any further delay in approval for so many reasons I cannot count.

The NRDC and allies need to be more thoughtful than pollyanna strategies, and can be of actual benefit in what might be accomplished. Not everything is worth a trumped up protest. There are reasons to not want to develop the Tar Sands ( further ) but economic issues on both sides of the border and in the Far East will make any delays rather shortlived, and in hindsight largely a waste of time.

A case can be made to reroute the path off of the Ogalla aquifer, but it is hardly as large an issue as it is made to be, and not worth a nominal years delay that merely ends up helping China in the end.

Yes the line might best be not on the Ogalla, but it is largely a tiny issue given other pipelines run over aquifers throughout the continent.

The claims of limited pipeline employment ignore the larger issue of oil industry employment esp in Houston the destination of the Keystone XL line to get the oil refined in the USA. Employment in Houston will benefit considerably even if most here wish to ignore that significant detail.

If NRDC and allies became strong proponents of safer ( not common ) Nuclear power such as CANDU, I'd grant this more credibility ( I really know that present light water nuclear reactors are a far larger danger than comprehended, largely due to age, but also insufficient intrinsic failsafe safety systems, and how coolant loss results in meltdowns largely impossible in CANDU ).

Molten Salt CSP concentrating solar thermal with molten salt storage / power buffering, is far better (power quality in numerous metrics) & safer than Cadmium Telluride Photovoltaic solar panels on your residence's rooftop. Lastly if NRDC and allies lined up and funded and helped implement better tar sands extraction methods and implementation of same, the excessive less productive crying wolf syndrome might be put in its proper place.

The notable issues often unspoken, are not left versus right, republican versus democrat, nor US versus Canada. Sensible decisions take more time, skill and thought than many actually devote or possess ( even at the NRDC and Sierra Club ).

Fewer attorneys might be a start, and more engineers and scientists with practical safety at all costs perspectives might be a better use of funds.

Comments are closed for this post.


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