WASHINGTON — Authorities should only approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline if they’re certain it won’t “significantly exacerbate” greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday as he unveiled a national plan to combat climate change.
In a highly anticipated speech on his second-term climate objectives, Obama weighed in on Keystone despite suggestions he would steer clear of the controversial project because it’s in the midst of a State Department review.
A determination that building the northern portion of Keystone XL will not result in greater greenhouse gas emissions “is absolutely critical in determining whether this project will be allowed to go forward,” Obama said to cheers from the crowd gathered on a steamy day at D.C.’s Georgetown University.
The pipeline must be found to “be in our nation’s interest,” he added.
Keystone XL has become a flashpoint for U.S. environmentalists, who have branded it a symbol of “dirty oil” and have spent the past two years mounting a fierce public relations battle against the project. The pipeline would transport millions of barrels of oilsands bitumen a week from Alberta to Texas refineries.
Calgary-based TransCanada has been pouring money into lobbying efforts in the U.S. capital in recent months. The company’s CEO, Russ Girling, said recently that he’s confident Keystone XL will ultimately win approval.
The draft environmental report on the pipeline by State Department officials, released in March, suggested Keystone XL’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions would be minimal. The powerful Environmental Protection Agency later questioned that finding.
TransCanada officials have said that even if Alberta oilsands production doubled, the carbon emissions would be “immaterial” to global greenhouse gas levels. They say Canada accounts for only two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the oilsands make up only five per cent of that total.
Obama rejected the pipeline in early 2012, but invited TransCanada to file a new application with an altered route that would skirt Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region. TransCanada did so, earning the thumb’s up from the state of Nebraska.
A final State Department decision on the $7.6-billion project is expected this fall. After that, it will be up to Obama to bless or block Keystone XL.
The president’s comments came as he provided details of new U.S. climate change regulations will cut carbon emissions at power plants and require federal projects to better prepare for the sort of extreme weather that has left much of Calgary underwater.
He’ll use his executive authority to implement most of the proposals, bypassing congressional lawmakers reluctant to move on climate change.
Obama is directing the EPA, for example, to initiate regulations on carbon emissions from existing coal and gas-fired utilities by next June, and to kick-start similar rules on new power plants. And he’ll ask the Interior Department to issue permits for new wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects on public lands in efforts that could fuel more than six million American homes within seven years.
New energy-efficiency projects are also a big part of the plan — proposals that could present major opportunities for Canadian biofuel companies. The plan also calls for more forceful action in boosting efficiency for appliances such as refrigerators and lamps.
He’s also instructing federal agencies to help state and local governments with existing problems caused by climate change, including improved flood protection for roads and other infrastructure, better hospitals to respond to deadly storms, and drought relief.