Keystone: Can we move on?
Before making his decision on the Keystone XL bill, which would commission an oil pipeline system to transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, President Barack Obama has vowed to first fully consider the plan’s potential contribution to global warming. However, as he awaits an environmental impact report from the State Department, environmentalists seem inexplicably content on continuing to rally behind the “Anti-Keystone” cause, given what is transpiring directly in front of them.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the U.S. has increased its network of oil pipelines by almost a quarter over the past decade. Katie Valentine of ThinkProgress discusses this phenomena and how pipelines just like Keystone XL are being granted approval with little resistance, in her article, “While We’ve Been Debating Keystone, The U.S. Has Grown Its Pipeline Network By Almost A Quarter.” According to the article, since 2012, “…more than 50 pipelines have been constructed, approved, or are in the process of being built.” She writes, “Also since 2012, 3.3 million barrels of oil per day of pipeline capacity has been built in the U.S. — a figure that dwarfs Keystone XL’s capacity to ship about 800,000 barrels per day.”
So, after years of debates, protests, and even presidential vetoes, neither side—neither proponents nor opponents of the pipeline—have reached their objective. That is, the Keystone supporters have failed to pass the Keystone XL bill and, evidently, environmentalists have failed to stop the growth of U.S oil pipeline networks.
Given the stalemate on the pipeline, the obvious question has become “Could there have been a different way?” In other words, were there any viable alternative pipeline plans proposed over the past seven years, ignored by policymakers, which could have been accepted both by environmentalists and Keystone supporters? Since this controversy began, contributors to well-known U.S. news publications have not only been expressing their feelings on the decisions being made, but furthermore, potential alternatives to them. Perhaps considering some of their recommendations may spark ideas of our own. What follows is a compilation of recommendations that have been proposed since the start of the New Year.
The first is from January 11th of this year by the editorial board of the Washington Post. In the article, “Return the Keystone XL Issue to Reality,” the board argues that the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline bill—before the Senate finally passed it—was being “blown far out of proportion.” At the time, while environmental activists insisted that President Obama take a hardline stance against the pipeline in fear of climate degradation, Republicans demanded that the Senate pass the bill an approval of it, citing the potential for job creation and decreased dependence on foreign oil. According to the article, both sides were moving the debate for the bill, “farther from reality,” through their exaggerations of its costs, and conversely, the overselling of its benefits. In order to stop wasting additional legislative time or grief, the writers urged President Obama to either sign the bill or strike a deal with Republicans in exchange for environmental concessions.
The recommendations of Washington Post’s editorial board must have been overlooked because on February 24th, President Obama vetoed the bill and returned it for congressional action sent it back to Congress. On the same day, The editorial board of USAToday took a firm stance against the veto in their article, “Override the Keystone pipeline veto: Our view.” The board article argued that the Keystone bill, which had recently been vetoed by President Obama, ought to be passed. It claims on the grounds that the benefits of Keystone outweighed its costs, which are were inevitable given that the Canadian oil will would be produced, extracted and exploited, regardless of whether the pipeline is was built or not. In order to bypass what the writers viewed as the cause of unnecessary political drama, they asserted that Congress must override the president’s veto and pass the contentious legislation.
Conceivably, some sensed that this idea—to override the veto—would not end up well. On February 24th, the editorial board of The Washington Post re-asserted that the Keystone XL controversy has been overblown and exceedingly drawn out. In response to the veto, their article, “Focus Legislative Energy on a National Carbon Policy Not Keystone XL,” argued that environmentalists have, “…turned what should have been a routine infrastructure question into an existential war.” As an alternative, the editorial board suggested that environmentalists begin to focus on the root of the problem: carbon emissions. According to the writers, instead of wasting more time on the Keystone Bill, environmentalists needed to concentrate their efforts on national carbon policy in order to reduce the demand for dirty fuels, which, unlike the pipeline, directly cause harm the environmental detriment.
The failure by Congress to override the presidential veto perhaps inspired more alternative solutions such as the one proposed by The Washington Post. In his article, “Don’t Kill Keystone. Regulate it,” Jonathan Waldman of The New York Times suggested that policymakers must remove themselves from the confines of the Keystone controversy and focus on the bigger issue at hand. Waldman urged President Obama to take a “bold stance” and approve the Keystone Bill in exchange for demanding stricter pipeline inspecting standards and safety measures. Some of his recommendations include: “More frequent inspections, lower criteria for intervening in response to corrosion and requirements that the information be made public.” In addition, Waldman writes that Obama should ensure that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is better funded, and allocated increased enforcement powers, including the ability to impose fines on policy violators. To him, given that the oil will be produced regardless of whether the pipeline is built, this plan would be more constructive and further effective in protecting the environment.
It is time for these imaginative but realistic policy recommendations to be heard. Given that the past environmental impact reports have assured that the pipeline would cause little environmental harm, it is unlikely that President Obama will come back with a “no” due to environmental concerns. Regardless, whatever he comes back with should be the end of it. The President needs to have a firmer stance on the issue for the impasse to finally wane. This is because the Keystone stalemate has lasted so long such that each side supposes that it is too late to turn back. Both sides know that by conceding, it is losing.
The primary problem with the Keystone debate is that both sides have lost prospective. If environmentalists allow the bill to be passed, although hundreds of pipelines have recently been approved with little resistance, the building of Keystone would be one HUGE loss unlike any other. If Keystone supporters fail to pass the bill, a precedent might be set for other pipelines to be blocked in the future. Not to mention, similar to environmentalists, if the supporters of the pipeline concede and fail to carry out their plan, their legitimacy is also tarnished. Regardless, policymakers on both sides need to open their eyes and check their watches. They need to open their eyes to the broader issue that Keystone represents and move toward addressing that, rather than Keystone itself. They need to check their watches and realize the time we have lost. Time is ticking, and along with it, an opportunity to consider diverse policy solutions to the Keystone issue.
- Konstantine Tettonis