Obama Links Pipelines With Climate Change

President Obama launched his climate change action plan this afternoon under a sweltering heat at Georgetown University. You can watch the full 45 minute speech below.

It was encouraging to hear the U.S. President resolutely address climate deniers ("We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society") and urge people to "push back on misinformation... invest...divest...make yourself heard on this issue."

It was particularly good to see Obama make such a clear and direct connection between oil pipelines and climate change in his statements about Keystone XL. Especially, as a Canadian living with a government that it is doing its best to play down the link between pipelines and climate.

To date the primary focus and debate about pipelines - particularly the public debate around Enbridge's Northern Gateway project and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion - has been about the danger of oil spills and local pollution, and less about the carbon footprint of the tarsands (Obama used "tarsands" rather than the industry's preferred term "oilsands"). Obama didn't clear up whether he will nix Keystone XL. But in his statements about the pipeline (starting at 22.55 in the video below) he raised the stakes significantly in the debate over the fate of TransCanada's 1,897 km funnel from the tarsands, by talking about how the "net effects" of carbon pollution would decide whether the project goes ahead.

"Our energy strategy must be about more than just producing more oil," he said. "Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served, only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution: the net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."

It's difficult to see how building a 830,000 barrel a day pipeline from the tarsands could not have a detrimental effect on the climate. This sounds to me like the writing is on the wall for Keystone XL, although commentators such as the New York Times or SFU Prof Mark Jaccard (who I interviewed for Running On Climate) have pointed out there is sufficient ambiguity, wiggle room for it to go either way.

That said, it would be surprising if Obama has raised environmentalist hopes over the now iconic Keystone XL battle, so that he can dash them from a greater height further down the line.