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
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT