Demonstrators rally against the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House on Nov. 6, 2011. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts.)
Addressing climate change was—quite remarkably—the most prominent policy vow President Obama made yesterday on the steps of the US Capitol Building. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he proclaimed.
The administration’s resolve on this issue will be tested quickly, when the Keystone XL pipeline comes up for review once again. Obama denied approval for the project in January 2012 over concerns it would damage Nebraska’s Ogalalla Aquifer, but allowed TransCanada to reapply for a permit with a different route, which it has done. A re-review of the project from the State Department may now be coming within the next few weeks.
It’s notable that the White House initially denied the project based on the logic that it might be bad for certain Nebraskans—not that it would pump unacceptable levels of carbon pollution into the air. (Which it would: NASA’s James Hansen has said “it’s basically game over” for climate change if the project goes ahead, and a new report released last week says it’s worse than we thought—the likely greenhouse gas emissions would be 13 percent higher than what the State Department originally estimated, according to the authors).
So will Obama’s new and ostensibly bold direction on climate change mean denying the project again, this time making explicit the harmful greenhouse gas argument? Or will the project be approved now that the pipeline has been rerouted around that aquifer?
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s answer to a reporter’s question this afternoon offers virtually no comfort to environmentalists and pipeline opponents. When asked about the Republican governor of Nebraska, a former pipeline opponent, who blessed the project today now that it’s been re-routed, Carney said: