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Joseph Romm's picture
American Progress
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Will Climate Change Hawk Kerry Kill Keystone XL?

Kerry confirmation as Secretary of StateThe Senate confirmed John Kerry as a Secretary of State by a vote of 94 to 3. I believe this is a turning point in the fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Once again, I do not think that a man who had dedicated his Senate career to fighting catastrophic climate change would start his term as Secretary approving the expansion of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world.

Keystone is a gateway to a huge pool of carbon-intensive fuel most of which must be left in the ground — along with most of the world’s coal and unconventional oil and gas – if humanity is to avoid multiple devastating impacts that may be beyond adaptation.

How precisely could Kerry lobby other countries to join an international climate treaty — perhaps his primary goal as Secretary — after enabling the accelerated exploitation of the tar sands? Yes, you can say that the United States already has no standing to cajole other countries into climate commitments when we’ve expanded oil and gas drilling as well as coal exports. But none of those were Kerry’s decision, whereas Keystone is.

Kerry starts as Secretary of State with a clean slate. But approving Keystone would be like dipping that slate into the dirtiest, stickiest tar imaginable — it could never be cleaned again. Certainly the three Senators from Big Oil who voted against him – Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Cornyn (R-TX), and James Inhofe (R-OK) — must think he isn’t going to be the friend to Texas Tea.

Here is what Kerry said on the subject of climate change in his confirmation hearing:

The solution to climate change is energy policy. And, the opportunities of energy policy so vastly outweigh the downsides that you’re expressing concerns about … You want to do business and do it well in America, you have to get into the energy race … I would respectfully say to you that climate change is not something to be feared in response to—the steps to respond to—it’s to be feared if we don’t … I will be a passionate advocate on this not based on ideology but based on facts and science, and I hope to sit with all of you and convince you that this $6 trillion market is worth millions of American jobs and we better go after it.

I simply don’t think this climate hawk will recommend that Keystone be approved.


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Jessica Kennedy's picture
Jessica Kennedy on Jan 31, 2013

whether or not the pipeline is approved though, oil imports will continue to pour in.  I'm not convinced that stopping the pipeline would reduce our oil consumption.

Even if we stop the pipeline - what's to stop Canada from extracting the oil anyway?  I worry it's a lose-lose for the atmosphere. 


Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on Jan 31, 2013

Agreed - China is already moving in. Canada is looking for growth partners, even here in the US. 

This is still an opportuntiy, for Kerry or Obama, to have a mature energy discussion with the US.

Will that opportunity be taken and made the most of? Unlikely, unfortunately. 

Kristopher Settle's picture
Kristopher Settle on Jan 31, 2013

That's exactly it, Jessica - this oil is going somewhere and I think that's out of the US's control.  If the options are either to have Canada export that oil to the US or export it to China/Russia/anybody else, I'd favor that it come through America for the jobs and economic benefits. 

My heart's with not building the pipeline, but my brain favors it for the reason above. 

Dick Bell's picture
Dick Bell on Jan 31, 2013

I sincerely hope that Joseph is correct. It will stretch our cynicism about politicans even further if we discover he took the job knowing that approving the pipeline would besmerch his career forever.

Kerry has a history of delivering on his environmental promises. One of the reasons I worked on his first Senate campaign in 1984 is because he had promised, during his 1982 campaign, to do something about acid rain, and he did. No politican could ever deliver on all of the promises he or she made, but Kerry's acid rain work impressed me.

Nevertheless, Kerry's ability to act in 1982 was circumscribed by the power of the governor at the time, Michael Dukakis. As it happens, Dukakis allowed Kerry to pursue solutions to acid rain.

So the question now is whether Kerry struck an agreement with Obama as a condition of accepting the job. If Obama is willing to kill Keystone, he could not have picked a better person to stand point than John Kerry. Let's hope Obama has agreed to let Kerry take on one what is, in fact, one of the great fights of the last 10,000 years of "civilized" history.

Jess Alridge's picture
Jess Alridge on Feb 1, 2013

One must understand the mechanics to understand the reality. Unless there is a pipeline there will be no excess extraction. Either there is a pipeline in the US or in Canada. Canada is meeting far more resistance then the United States, this is why they are trying for international borders, plus the terrain is cheaper. If the pipeline was meaningless and if this is tar sands is so desirable to outside investors, wouldn't they have already started extraction at an excellerated rate? Yes they would have, but no pipe means far less tar sands. So yes the pipeline is intergral to the whole. And China is going to be buying the bitumen when it hits the Texas coast, don't be fooled. It aint staying here once it has made it way to Texas.


Bobbi O's picture
Bobbi O on Feb 1, 2013

 Mr. Romm,

  As a strong supporter of controling greenhouse gases  , yet pragmatic , I am not totally clear why not building the Keystone pipeline would dramaticlly improve the situation. Would not Canada simply find alternative markets and move the same oil to western ports by other pipelines or worse by rail? Sovereign nations don't take kindly to foreign interference, even Canada. Wouldn't we be better off by buying their oil but demand the strongest environmental initiatives to buy their oil? Sort of like a McDonalds can demand standards from it's suppliers. Perhaps you could explain your logic in a post. I would very much like to hear your opinion.         J. Otto

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