Skip to main content

Keystone is pipeline to future of dirty fuel

By Tom Steyer
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tom Steyer: Secretary Kerry rightly called climate change one of our greatest challenges
  • Steyer: If President Obama is to be a climate leader, he must reject the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Steyer: Pipeline unlocks tar sand oil and leads to unchecked development of dirty fossil fuels
  • He says U.S. can't lead on climate change abroad while polluting our own backyard more

Editor's note: Tom Steyer is an investor, philanthropist and advanced energy advocate. He is president of NextGen Climate Action, which focuses on stopping climate change.

(CNN) -- Over the weekend on his trip to Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry implored the global community to take action on climate change, calling it "the greatest challenge of our generation." Speaking to students, he underscored what we all know to be true: that climate change is an undeniable fact and a danger that we can no longer afford to ignore.

Around the globe, President Obama and his chief diplomat are pressing for urgent action to combat the effects of climate change and reduce carbon pollution before we pass the point of no return. But the decision that will either solidify or irrevocably weaken Obama's legacy as a leader on climate change lies much closer to home in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump heavy tar sands crude through America's heartland.

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer

The world was watching in June when the President drew a line in the sand during his speech at Georgetown, where he declared that the Keystone XL pipeline would be approved only if "the project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

Today, the world is still watching, and if President Obama is to remain a global climate leader, his choice is clear. Keystone XL fails the President's climate test, and he must reject it.

If approved, Keystone XL will unlock the Alberta tar sands, spur investment in and production of dirty fossil fuels at an irreversible rate and undermine the President's global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

And while the flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement released by the State Department last month was touted by TransCanada Corp. as proof that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially increase carbon emissions, substantial oversights and serious questions about the report's integrity mean this question is far from resolved.

Oil industry apologists insist that the Keystone XL pipeline will not have an impact on carbon pollution, because without it, the tar sands would come out of the ground anyway. But the oil industry has acknowledged that it needs additional pipeline capacity to keep up with increasing production.

Longterm impact of Keystone Pipeline

A report by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers predicts that existing pipelines will be full by the end of 2014. And Keystone XL, which would transport up to 830,000 barrels per day, is only part of the solution. To meet its aggressive 2030 production goals, the industry would need all five of its proposed pipeline projects and then would still fall short.

Others claim that rail is a viable alternative to pipelines and that the tar sands will be developed with or without new pipeline capacity. But they are ignoring key facts.

The oil industry needs to build a pipeline straight through the U.S. to access refineries on the Gulf Coast, which allows tar sands oil to be sold at higher world market prices.
Tom Steyer

Industry and Canadian officials have conceded that rail is not a substitute for Keystone XL in terms of capacity. Not only that, rail is significantly more expensive. The State Department estimates that shipping tar sands by pipeline costs about $8 to $10 per barrel. Make the switch to rail, and the price shoots up to $15 to $17 per barrel, with some estimates as high as $31. For investors, that means rail is only a short-term solution to get the tar sands to market, not a long-term economical alternative to new pipelines.

The truth is, the oil industry needs to build a pipeline straight through the United States to access refineries on the Gulf Coast, which allows tar sands oil to be sold at higher world market prices. Keystone XL means producers' profit margins go up, and we're locked into an endless cycle of investment, production and pollution.

At the end of the day, Keystone XL is not just another oil pipeline; it's a gateway to the unchecked development of one of the world's dirtiest fossil fuels.

Secretary Kerry was right: Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation, and it is our responsibility to preserve our planet for generations to come. But America cannot lead the fight on climate change abroad while allowing even more pollution to be produced in our own backyard. To truly be a global leader on climate change, President Obama must first make the right choices here at home. He must deny the Keystone XL pipeline.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tom Steyer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT