Keystone XL a Climate 'Dirty Bomb,' Advocate Says

Ahead of a meeting between Obama and the Canadian prime minister, a panel urges the White House to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Anthony Swift, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, was part of a panel discussion Feb. 19, 2014, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., urging President Barack Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Anthony Swift, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, was part of a panel discussion Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., urging President Barack Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

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Less than a week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” a leading climate advocate likened the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the United States to “a dirty bomb, which would cause an explosion of carbon pollution.”

The comments from Daniel J. Weiss – a senior fellow and climate strategy director at the Center for American Progress – came during a panel with three other Keystone XL opponents at the National Press Club on Wednesday, hours before President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were scheduled to meet in Mexico to talk, in part, about the pipeline.

Harper has strongly urged Obama to sign off on the pipeline, which he and other supporters argue would reduce the two countries’ dependence on overseas oil and provide thousands of construction jobs.

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“It is befuddling how a small minority of folks can look unemployed Americans in the eye and say to them that we don’t want to build this pipeline,” American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Sabrina Fang tells U.S. News in a statement.

In contrast, opponents such as Weiss insist that by rejecting the pipeline, the United States essentially would constrict development of Canada’s tar sands, where oil extraction emits far more greenhouse gases than traditional drilling and mining. Barring the pipeline also would protect sensitive environmental areas from both construction and potential oil spills, they say.

“We have to draw a line in the sand,” says Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs with the League of Conservation Voters. “Rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline is absolutely critical.”

Weiss, Sittenfeld and the two others on the panel – Anthony Swift, an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, and Bill Burton, an adviser to the League of Conservation Voters and a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress – were particularly critical of a recent State Department report that found the pipeline “is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas (based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios).”

They argued the report “underestimated” both the amount of carbon that tar sands extraction would emit and how much oil industry groups there are relying on the pipeline’s approval.

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“‘If there were no more pipeline expansions, I would have to slow down’ the company’s expansion plans,” said Burton, quoting comments by Cenovus Energy CEO Brian Ferguson to The Globe and Mail.

Still, Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada, which is seeking to build the pipeline, told The Washington Post that his company was “very pleased with the [report’s] release and about being able to move to this next stage of the process,” arguing that “the case for the Keystone XL, in our view, is as strong as ever.”

A review by federal agencies on the proposed pipeline is expected to be sent to Obama by the summer, but when the president will make a final decision on the project is not clear.

“We are very optimistic and very confident that Obama and Kerry will decide the project is not in our national interest and must be rejected,” Sittenfeld said.