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Obama should block the Keystone pipeline

Published 9:40am Wednesday, June 26, 2013

by Tim Kaine

President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision in the next few months on the Keystone XL project. As the debate heats up, I worry that the shorthand used in talking about the issue obscures the real point.

I’m a pro-pipeline senator. As a former mayor of Richmond, a city with a gas utility, I think it makes no sense to be anti-pipeline. But I oppose the Keystone XL project. Although the president’s decision is technically over whether to allow a pipeline to deliver oil from Alberta to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the real issue isn’t the pipeline. It’s the wisdom of using tar sands oil.

By most accounts, oil from tar sands is 15 to 20 percent dirtier than conventional petroleum, and the process of extracting and refining it is more difficult and resource-intensive.

With so many cleaner alternatives, there is no reason to embrace the use of a dirtier fuel source. Approving the pipeline would send a clear signal to the markets to expand the development of tar sands oil. Such an expansion would hurt our nation’s work to reduce carbon emissions. We have to make energy cleaner tomorrow than it is today. That’s why the president should block Keystone.

Being cleaner doesn’t mean we have to abandon carbon-based energy. As governor of Virginia, I supported building a state-of-the art coal plant in exchange for converting a plant that predated the Clean Air Act from coal to natural gas. I support development of offshore energy (gas, oil, wind and tidal) in the Atlantic. I support new hydro-fracturing techniques that expand the production of natural gas.

And I believe that recent upgrades in national fuel economy standards are a major environmental achievement for Obama. We just need to take a phased approach to reducing carbon emissions.

Coal plants, fossil-fuel production and automobiles still pollute. But we’ve shown that we can get progressively cleaner.

The United States has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 9 percent since 2005. Although the recession played a part, the volume of fuel use switched over to natural gas during this period was unprecedented, and renewable-electricity generation — particularly wind — has grown faster than expected. Better auto fuel efficiency has played a part and will continue to have an increasing role.

Few could have foreseen that the United States would reduce emissions to this degree. And we’ve done it through smart policies and innovation. I hope we can learn from this and keep moving in the right direction.

But tar sands oil is the opposite of an innovative, make-it-cleaner approach. It represents a major backslide. Why would we embrace a dirtier energy source when smart innovation and policy are opening up so many cleaner alternatives?

I explained my thoughts to a manufacturing executive recently, and he said: “I understand your point about Alberta tar sands oil, and even agree, to some extent. But it will be mined, refined, shipped and used by someone. Shouldn’t we try to benefit from it in America?”

I have two responses.

First, we may not be able to control what other nations do, but that’s no reason to embrace a lowest-common-denominator approach.

Second, if release of the tar sands oil were inevitable, the pipeline wouldn’t be such a big deal. If it were just as easy to ship this oil via road or rail, proponents wouldn’t be pushing so hard.

There’s a longer-term answer, too. Someday when I am long retired from the Senate and kids ask me what I did for energy and the environment,

I want to tell them a story about how the United States led the way with innovative solutions that created jobs, reduced pollution and tackled our energy challenges head-on.

I hope the president gets to tell that same story long after he’s out of office.

Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission from The Washington Post. Originally published June 20.

SEN. TIM KAINE, D-VA, represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

  • Makalani

    RE: “oil from tar sands is 15 to 20 percent dirtier than conventional petroleum…”
    Agreed — environmental damage from tar sand oil extraction is greater than conventional methods — a huge minus. But that oil shipped south via the Keystone pipeline to the US would lessen our dependence on Middle Eastern oil — a huge plus.

    The Arab oil nations have the US over a barrel doing the “please-keep-the-oil-spigots-open-square-dance.” We “promenade” and make nice with people who use part of our $billions in oil purchases to fund radical Arab groups. Fourteen of the nineteen 9-11 hijackers were from Saudia Arabia — one of our Arab oil suppliers. We then “do-si-do and spin around” ignoring that fact in order not to alienate them. Then we “star by the right” — spending $billions more to protect Israel and the US from some of the very people we help fund with our oil purchases. Some of these radicals have an avowed goal of “wiping Israel off the map!”

    In 10-20 years — or sooner — the Keystone pipeline can be a key cornerstone in slaking our thirst for Arab oil. Along with the domestic oil boom from fracking — imports from Mexico and from other non-Arab countries — we can break our dependence on Arab oil. For this reason alone — President Obama should approve the Keystone pipeline.

    RE: “I want to tell them a story about how the United States led the way…”
    With the approval of the Keystone pipeline — President Obama can some day tell the story of how he “led the way” to America’s Middle Eastern foreign policy no longer being held hostage by our dependence on Arab oil.

    He can also tell the story of how future presidents hands were untied when dealing with Middle Eastern oil countries’ leaders. They won’t have to approach them with a 55-gal oil drum crammed with dollar bills in one hand and an olive branch in the other — dealing from a position of weakness/dependency on their oil!

    Along with putting an end to the US doing the “please-keep-the-oil-spigots-open-square-dance” — these are the stories that I want the President to tell long after he is out of office.

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  • handkusp45

    another liberal socialist is heard from..blah, blah, blah

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  • RWH

    If Timmy Kane is against it then I’m for it. I wonder what Timmy’s opinion is on the engine damaging E-15% Ethanol blend we are about to have forced on us? I bet he’s for that also.

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