Pipe Dreams

Despite protests, calls from scientists, criticism from his own agencies, and plain common sense, President Obama gave the green light to the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, all but assuring a disastrous expansion of our global warming footprint.

The move is probably the most disturbing signal that the Obama Administration lacks any genuine willingness to confront the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling extreme climate change.

I say “any genuine willingness” in all seriousness.

Although it’s true we have had the Environmental Protection Agency step up to regulate greenhouse gases and stay true to its legal duties to clean up air, water, and waste pollution from coal-fired power plants and other fossil fuels, this progress has been the exception and not the norm in the Obama Administration.  Worse, this progress is being eroded away entirely by decisions like the Keystone pipeline.

Remember, the pipeline is just the tip of the iceberg, especially here in the West.  As WildEarth Guardians has pointed out, the Obama Administration is directing one of the most significant expansions of coal mining in U.S. history, giving the green light for nearly 6 billion tons of new coal to be stripped from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.  Once burned, that coal will release 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

That’s one and a half times the 6.63 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions that were released in the U.S. in 2009.

That’s not all.  As we’ve seen in the past year, the Administration has been absolutely unwilling to seize opportunities to curb greenhouse gas emissions through critical decisions.  Take their refusal to limit methane waste at coal mines, their unwillingness to address greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas drilling, and of course, there was the most recent cheerleading of oil shale development in Colorado.  The latter is particularly galling because oil shale development has not only never been commercially viable, but the technologies to produce it at a meaningful scale simply don’t exist.  Even Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has commented that commercial oil shale technologies are years away.

So apparently the Obama Administration is basing its climate policies on pipe dreams–both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately, pipe dreams–especially pipe dreams that carry 900,000 barrels of oil daily–don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In spite of rhetoric and some progress, Obama’s legacy on confronting global warming is looking more dismal by the day.

Still, as hope for President Obama wanes, I have to say I’m incredibly uplifted by the fact that so many have stepped up to confront the Administration on the Keystone pipeline.  Even mainstream environmental groups penned a letter urging the President to reject the proposal.  We’ve got our work cut out, but hey, when has saving the world been easy?

Syncrude oil sands mining operations.Oil sands strip mining in Alberta.  An area the size of Florida is slated to be strip mined as a result of the Keystone pipeline.  Photo by Pembina Institute.

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