Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

Say no to Keystone

With the revised route for the Keystone XL pipeline having last week won approval from Nebraska's Republican governor, the geology of North America's most controversial energy project is clear: It has landed President Barack Obama between a rock and a hard place.

Having campaigned for an "all of the above" energy policy but also having announced that addressing climate change will be a top priority during his second term, President Obama must choose between enabling TransCanada's petroleum exports and preventing what climatologists fear will quickly provide a huge and disastrous new boost in greenhouse gases.

Still, the decision may not be so difficult if Mr. Obama sticks to one guiding principal: What is in the best interests of the United States — the jobs associated with construction of the multibillion-dollar project, or the risks posed by climate change and enabling greater global addiction to petroleum from a particularly troubling source?

On that basis, the risks far outweigh the rewards. The U.S. State Department should reject the project simply out of concern for the health, safety and security of U.S. citizens. Rising sea levels, severe storms, droughts and the risk posed to agriculture, and the potential for political disruption on a world scale all are associated with global warming.

And make no mistake, the Keystone pipeline is not just another incremental step in petroleum distribution. The crude oil would come from Canadian tar sands, the dirtiest possible source of petroleum, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service study. Burning tar sands oil is bad enough, but even extracting it is highly polluting.

It's all very well for political leaders to decry the excess carbon emissions that are slowly raising the temperature of this planet, but that trend won't reverse unless the line is drawn somewhere. Surely, a project like Keystone — which is not even expected to help U.S. consumers by reducing domestic gasoline or heating oil prices — is a reasonable place to start.

Of course, such a choice is going to raise quite a hue and cry from the petroleum industry and its friends in Congress. But it's amusing to note that many of those same companies are not shy in raising the climate-change issue when it comes to promoting domestic natural gas, which burns far cleaner than coal.

Other critics will play the "E" cards and rail against the president for not putting the economy and energy independence first. Yet how much good Keystone does either is doubtful, particularly if enabling (if not expanding) global dependence on oil greatly harms this nation's growing green energy producers.

Don't want to rely on oil from the Middle East and other less-than-dependable sources? The country has already ratcheted down that reliance in recent years, and the secret is to both increase U.S. drilling where appropriate and to burn less oil, either through conservation (such as requiring greater energy efficiency) or by expanding use of renewable energy.

Climate change is not some far-off, theoretical threat. It's effects are real and already being felt. Has anyone noticed this week's stunningly volatile weather pattern? Experts say we can expect a lot more of that — along with disastrous weather like superstorm Sandy, which is already costing the country tens of billions of dollars. That experience alone should have taught Congress what is at stake in the climate change debate.

The fact that there continue to be so many climate change deniers in the Republican-controlled House simply underscores the need for President Obama to take action when and where he can. The Keystone decision is his administration's alone, and politics ought not enter a decision-making process that should be governed by science and the facts.

Will he take some heat? Absolutely, but if the president's committed to pushing for controversial remedies to climate change like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade law, he will have a tough time explaining how he could have first approved a project like Keystone that is so harmful to the environment. Besides, polls show the public wants action on climate change, and that could help Democrats in 2014. Mr. Obama put off the Keystone decision last year and won re-election handily, a sign that TransCanada doesn't drive public opinion in this country now or in 2014.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Safety or revenue?
      Safety or revenue?

      Before it was shut down over reports of widespread errors, Baltimore ran by far the largest speed camera program in the state and one of the largest in the nation. It generated a lot of tickets and a lot of revenue for the city — so much so that officials were fighting over what to do...

    • Tragedy in New York
      Tragedy in New York

      For Marylanders, the execution-style killings of two New York City police officers on Saturday in Brooklyn was horrifying and despicable, but the possibility that the shooter had a local connection — Ismaaiyl Brinsley had allegedly shot a woman in Owings Mills before killing officers...

    • Cyber security
    • No superheroes in 'The Interview' capitulation
      No superheroes in 'The Interview' capitulation

      The first issue of Captain America came out on Dec. 20, 1940. It shows Cap slugging Adolph Hitler in the mouth.

    • Fighting violence's hidden effects
      Fighting violence's hidden effects

      No child should have to witness a neighbor gunned down in the street or the beating of a parent or caregiver. Such experiences not only are disturbing when they occur, they also can leave deep emotional and psychological scars that affect children's mental and physical health for years...

    • 2016 voters may choose between two dynasties
      2016 voters may choose between two dynasties

      Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's candid interest in seeking the presidency in 2016 raises skepticism about whether the voters would vote for a third Bush in the Oval Office.

    Comments
    Loading