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'Cooking the Books and the Planet': Report Slams State Dept. KXL Findings

'Any objective analysis of the impact of building Keystone shows that it would be a climate catastrophe'

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Students from Santa Monica High School join hundreds of protestors on Feb. 17 at Los Angeles City Hall demanding President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. (Credit: Charlie Kajio/cc by 2.0)A new report by some of the nation's top environmental groups on Tuesday shows that approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would add at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the equivalent of pollution from 37.7 million cars or 51 newly built coal-fired power plants.

The report—“Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores the True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline” (pdf)—is a direct rebuttal of the government authored environmental impact statement (known as an SEIS) which was released in draft form last month and that environmentalists say is a deeply flawed and short-sighted look at the project, especially as it relates to the science of climate change.

The report was researched and authored by Oil Change International with input and review by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Environment America, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

“Any objective analysis of the impact of building Keystone shows that it would be a climate catastrophe,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Instead, the State Department seems ready to buy into the pipeline propaganda of an army of lobbyists who are trading on their ties to Secretary Kerry and President Obama to taint the decision. The president must act in the national interest, not the interests of Big Oil, and reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

The key findings of the group's research concluded that:

  • The 181 million metric tons of (CO2e) from Keystone XL is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars. This is more cars than are currently registered on the entire West Coast (California, Washington, and Oregon), plus Florida, Michigan, and New York – combined.
  • Between 2015 and 2050, the pipeline alone would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e. This amount is greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.
  • The International Energy Agency has said that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid a 2 degree C temperature rise. Constructing the Keystone XL pipeline and developing the tar sands make that goal far more difficult, if not impossible, to reach.

Despite all this, said 350.org executive director May Boeve, "the State Department says that the pipeline would have negligible climate impacts."

Boeve's group is among those urging its members this week to use the public comment period set out by the State Department to voice their opposition to the tar sands pipeline and hopes that this new report will help inform the broader public about the inherent dangers of Keystone XL, whether it eventually spills or not.

“The report clearly demonstrates that we can’t protect future generations from the worst impacts of global warming while allowing ourselves to become hooked on even dirtier sources of fuel,” said Daniel Gatti, Get Off Oil Program Director for Environment America. “We need President Obama and Secretary Kerry to say no to tar sands, and no to the Keystone XL pipeline.”

And Inter Press Service adds:

At the heart of this criticism is an observation of conflicting national policies: that approval of the Keystone XL would contradict stated U.S. climate policy.

“At the top of a long list of problems with [the SEIS] is the simple assertion that the Keystone XL pipeline would have no impact on climate change … in the belief that these emissions will be released regardless of whether the pipeline gets built. This is simply incorrect,” Steve Kretzmann, lead author of the new report and a researcher with Oil Change International, an advocacy group, told reporters Tuesday.

"Further, whether or not that oil would be burned anyway is a separate question … The State Department needs to assess this project’s climate impact by looking at whether Keystone XL would survive national policies to limit climate change to two degrees Celsius, which is this country’s stated goal – and we believe it would not.”

Since the Keystone XL proposal was first put forward by TransCanada, a Canadian company, in 2008, scientists have come to a clearer understanding of what’s today called the world’s “carbon budget”. This refers to the percentage of remaining fossil fuel resources that can be burned without bringing about the catastrophic forecasts of what could happen if the Earth’s average temperature rises more than two degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Also on Tuesday, the public advocacy group Public Citizen released a separate report which debunked another central claim of pipeline proponents—that building Keystone would lower domestic gasoline and fuel prices for US consumers. In fact, claims the group, their findings support the idea that gas prices would almost certainly go up, not down.

According to the group:

Because the pipeline is designed to send oil from Canada to overseas markets (Canadian Energy Minister Ken Hughes recently said that it is a “strategic imperative” to get petroleum products “to the ocean, so that we secure global prices for our products”), it will not enhance U.S. energy security. In fact, a major purpose is to divert tar sands oil from U.S. Midwest refineries, where it is refined and sold in the domestic market, to the Gulf Coast, for export. That means the pipeline will work to raise – not lower – prices for U.S. consumers.

The fact that the oil will be shipped outside the U.S. raises questions about the validity of claims that the pipeline will improve national energy security. In fact, not only will U.S. consumers not see the oil, but much of it will be owned by China, which is the largest foreign investor in Canada’s tar sands, representing 52 percent of all foreign investment since 2003. The report documents the many Chinese companies that have bought into the Canadian tar sands, including China National Offshore Oil Corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation and China Investment Corporation.

“Keystone XL proponents are relying on two key arguments to urge the project to be approved: reduced prices for U.S. consumers and national energy security,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program and report author. “Our analysis shows that the pipeline is almost certain to fail to advance either of these objectives.”

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