Reprinted from the San Diego Union Tribune, December 29, 2011
By John Reaves and Ryan Ginard
TransCanada has proposed the 1,702-mile, $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline (“KXL”), designed to carry an additional 830,000 barrels per day of tar sand oil from Canada to refineries near the Gulf. KXL has spawned national controversy and protests.
The fate of KXL lies in the hands of the State Department and President Obama, who campaigned to combat climate change. In November, the president said he would delay any decision until 2013. Congress recently tied a payroll tax extension to a 60-day presidential decision on KXL or face an automatic permit grant.
After carefully evaluating pros and cons, the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce urges our government to reject misleading arguments that we would be safer and better off economically pursuing risky unconventional sources of fossil fuels. Instead, we should boost clean energy.
The chamber supports business practices that are sustainable and consistent with long-term environmental protection and also enable businesses to participate in the rapidly growing green economy. It would be irresponsible to invest in infrastructure that hastens destruction of the environment and dependence on extra-dirty fuels.
Our nation’s foremost climatologist, James Hansen, says if KXL is built and Canadian tar sands are developed, carbon dioxide could rise to 600 parts per million (since humanity began, only exceeded 290 after Industrial Revolution; “safe” is below 350; currently about 390). He says the “game” (stopping the worst of climate change) would be “over,” leaving dire challenges to our children and planet.
Extracting and refining tar sands is so fuel-intensive that the EPA estimates an increase of 1.15 billion tons of greenhouse gases over KXL’s 50-year life span.
Processing requires grinding down the surface, often over 50 feet, to get at bitumen seams, then consuming 400 million gallons of water a day to produce petroleum slurry. Ninety percent of the resulting polluted water is dumped into toxic tailing ponds that already cover 65 square miles.
The environmental destruction is inconceivable. The Alberta tar sands set for extraction are found under forests and wetlands similar in size to Florida.
KXL would traverse our heartland over the Ogallala aquifer that serves farms and 2 million people. The two existing tar sands oil pipelines already have bad records, including an 830,000-gallon spill into the Kalamazoo River last year.
Proponents of KXL urge we jump at private investment and jobs. The State Department says projected jobs are around 6,000, not 20,000. Even a large number would not justify the huge environmental cost.
They also claim getting oil from Canada strengthens national security. Yet retired four-star generals and admirals concluded in a Rockefeller Foundation study that climate change, if not addressed, is the greatest threat to national security. Furthermore, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports we export more petroleum products than we import. Since proponents argue KXL imports would make us more secure, wouldn’t exporting less be a better option?
Moreover, even if the U.S. permits KXL, most of the oil appears destined for other countries. The New York Times reported six companies have already contracted for three-quarters of the oil. Five are foreign, and the one American company, Valero, is reportedly geared toward export.
Meanwhile, China has invested billions in Canada’s tar sands projects. There is currently no way to deliver oil to the Pacific, and disputes with environmentalists and indigenous communities threaten to derail any proposed pipeline.
The chamber understands the need to improve jobs and the national economy. We want America to become the engine of the global economy again. But KXL is not the answer.
Put a price on carbon, such as with Rep. Pete Stark’s Save Our Climate Act, and watch a landslide of capital move to renewables. Add long-term regulatory direction and certainty.
Increase utilities’ use of renewable energy nationwide. Allow anyone to sell excess generated power to utilities at a reasonable profit over a long term. Provide low-interest funding options for solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy projects and require use of American products to the fullest extent practical. Do the same for energy efficiency projects. Streamline processing for similar types of renewable projects. Continue subsidies to fledging – and promising – clean industries.
All these would help spur jobs and retrain many of the unemployed.
We face a great moral challenge: whether to lock ourselves into possibly catastrophic climate change or stop using dirtier unconventional fossil fuels. The chamber urges: 1) the U.S. reject KXL, 2) press all nations to leave tar sands in the earth, and 3) create clean energy jobs by pricing carbon and adding regulatory direction.
Reaves, a San Diego-based business and environmental lawyer, is director of policy for the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of Ecovolve Partners. Ginard is the advocacy and government relations manager for the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce.