Senior Administration officials say that Secretary of State John Kerry will advise President Obama not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline this morning, and the President is expected to put a nail in the beleaguered project’s coffin later today.
President Obama’s expected rejection will be done with one eye (or maybe both) on his climate legacy, as the pipeline has become one of the environmental movement’s core issues during its seven years (!) in regulatory limbo. Its rejection just weeks away from the start of the COP21 climate summit in Paris will undoubtedly be intended as some sort of signal of America’s seriousness when it comes to green issues.
But as we wrote earlier this morning (before this latest news broke), Keystone isn’t a green issue, it’s just a piece of infrastructure. The State Department’s own analysis showed that the project would have a negligible effect on global emissions by virtue of the simple fact that the Canadian crude it would be transporting from Alberta’s oil sands down to Gulf coast refineries is going to be drilled with or without a pipeline through the United States. Oil is too valuable a commodity for it to stay in the ground, and blocking one of its possible routes to market won’t be enough to overcome that economic imperative.
That doesn’t mean that Canada won’t feel this rejection acutely. Just this week the new Liberal government reiterated Canada’s hope that the U.S. would approve Keystone, a rare moment of agreement with the Conservative administration it displaced. True, Canada has alternatives (which is why the green argument against it doesn’t hold water), but Keystone made the most sense. Killing it will set back relations between the U.S. and its largest trading partner.
The facts of the debate say that Keystone should have been summarily approved, but those facts haven’t mattered for years. Instead, the Keystone controversy has at once been a political football, an issue of optics, and a stand-in metric for how seriously the President takes climate change. Greens will claim its rejection as a great victory, but any sort of closer inspection reveals how hollow this “win” really is. The only positive takeaway from today’s news: at least this sorry saga is over. Maybe now greens can devote time and effort towards more serious causes. Oh, who are we kidding…