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Did State Department Approach Its Keystone Analysis Completely Backwards?

2 min. read

In its recent analysis of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, did the U.S. State Department get it completely backwards? That's what this analysis at InsideClimate News argues, and we're inclined  to agree.

The study presents an analysis of how markets will adjust if the pipeline isn't built. But lawyers and pipeline opponents say that approach allowed the State Department to dodge the central question that the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, poses about major federal decisions: What would it mean for the environment, including for climate change, if the project is built?

Instead, the report looked at what might happen if the pipeline is rejected and declared that any benefits to the global climate would be trivial. Canadian producers would continue to ship oil sands products to U.S. refineries by other means, such as rail, the report concluded, and greenhouse gas emissions from this unusually dirty oil would continue more or less unabated.

That approach "is not in keeping with the letter or the spirit of NEPA," said Pat Parenteau, an environmental lawyer at the Vermont Law School. "It stands the whole concept of examining the consequences of your actions on its head, it really does."

Calling the State Department's approach "highly suspect," "very questionable," and "very disingenuous," Parenteau predicted: "There is going to be litigation if this is approved."

The bottom line question here should be whether Keystone XL is in the U.S. national interest.  When it comes to jobs, one of the only independent studies conducted found that the pipeline “may actually destroy more jobs than it generates." That's certainly not in the national interest. The same report, by Cornell University, concluded that Keystone also "will impede progress toward green and sustainable economic renewal and will have a chilling effect on green investments and green jobs creation." That's clearly not in the national interest either. Finally, Keystone will seriously harm the environment. That includes its contribution towards increased emissions of greenhouse gases that are contributing to severe weather, drought, and sea-level rise. All of those are harming, and will continue to harm, the United States.

Again, how any of this is in our nation's interest is hard to understand. On the other hand, if you ask the completely wrong question, perhaps it's not so surprising that you'll end up with the completely wrong answer.