President Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, declaring that the project is not in the national interest. He argued that it wouldn’t really help the economy or U.S. energy security, which is not a great reason to reject a project the country’s largest trading partner wants.
Perhaps, then, the president had something more — some serious environmental grounds on which to reject the pipeline? Nope.
Despite an oration about leading on climate change, the president did not claim that Keystone XL would increase climate change-inducing carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, he admitted that the pipeline “would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”
He claimed this because two State Department analyses, along with a slew of experts, have repeatedly said so. In fact, a senior State Department official said Friday, “In our analysis, we do not conclude that this project denial will impact on its own [oil] production in Alberta.” The department expects oil rail transport to tick up in the absence of the pipeline.
Another senior State Department official defended the president’s decision by arguing that Keystone XL’s rejection will show foreign governments that the United States is willing to make tough calls in order to lead on climate change. Given that the president claimed only minutes earlier that the pipeline would have been irrelevant to the U.S. economy, this defense is hollow.
Keystone XL was a routine infrastructure decision that, as Obama put it Friday, “became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter.”
Actually, it was more than that. Keystone XL was an irrational and insulting litmus test for seriousness about climate change. It made the environmental movement look capricious and immature. It alienated some of those who should be natural allies in the fight against global warming. The stunning lack of substance behind the anti-Keystone XL movement should have offended those who care about the real, formidable task of transitioning the economy onto low- and no-emissions technology, which requires a widespread reduction in demand for dirty fuels. Anti-Keystone XL activists have misapplied their energy; the danger is that they will continue to do so.
Obama is right that the pipeline’s significance has been “over-inflated,” and that it shouldn’t have been considered an issue of major national importance. Which shows that he was wrong to bow to the herd demanding its rejection.