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Does Keystone XL report let Obama off the hook on climate pledge?

The State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline does not oppose it on environmental grounds. Critics say this allows Obama to back away from his pledge to combat climate change.

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Obama made global warming a core theme of his State of the Union address last month, in which he urged Congress “to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change” but did not mention the Keystone XL project, nor offer specifics about regulation of industries that contribute to carbon pollution.

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Following the State Department report, many advocacy groups echoed Michael Brune, executive director or the Sierra Club, who released a statement saying he was “outraged” by the report’s “deeply flawed analysis.”

“We’re mystified as to how the State Department can acknowledge the negative effects of the Earth’s dirtiest oil on our climate, but at the same time claim that the proposed pipeline will ‘not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.’ Whether this failure was willful or accidental, this report is nothing short of malpractice,” Mr. Brune said.

Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for environmental advocacy group 350.org in Oakland, Calif., says the president’s framing of climate change as a “moral issue” in his comments contradicts his administration’s emerging position regarding Keystone XL. “We get this analysis that says ‘don’t worry, it’s going to happen anyway.’ That’s a technical failure and that’s a moral failure,” Mr. Kessler says.

Many groups say they are stepping up their efforts to persuade Obama of what they say are the dire environmental consequences if the pipeline is approved. Kessler says his organization is seeking a meeting with the president so the many climate scientists they work with can make their case for rejecting the pipeline. In May, there will be civil disobedience training for “thousands” of volunteers who plan to stage nationwide public protests in the coming months.

The organization also will be sending teams to follow the president and Secretary of State John Kerry to stage public protests “so if they are in Barcelona, Buenos Aries or Toledo, Ohio … they will hear from people in their face,” Kessler says.

Besides the environmental argument, some say the pipeline proposal is economically flawed. On Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released a statement calling for a more fine-tuned analysis into how the pipeline will improve gas prices for American consumers.

“The State Department needs to explain how it is in America’s national and economic interests … especially if the pipeline is simply a conduit for oil and refined products to go elsewhere that makes the United States less energy secure and drives domestic gas prices higher,” Sen. Wyden said.

The current Keystone pipeline carries crude from Hardisty, Alberta to markets in Illinois and Oklahoma. The extensions, one connecting Alberta to Steele City, Neb. and a second that connects Cushing, Okla., to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, will expand TransCanada’s distribution channels for heavy crude oil extracted from tar sands formations in Alberta.

The State Department says a 45-day public feedback process starts Friday. A final decision is not expected until late July or August. 

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