Coral Davenport, one of The New York Times’ few environmental reporters, is repeating her past mistakes on Keystone XL reporting. The Keystone XL pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands to Texan oil refineries, allowing the high-carbon product to reach the global oil market. Over its forty-year intended lifetime, the pipeline’s tar sands crude would have a greenhouse-pollution footprint of about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of forty new coal-fired power plants. By any reasonable measure, the Keystone XL pipeline is a major piece of infrastructure for the Canadian tar-sands industry and a significant threat to a safe climate.In a recent story entitled “Experts Say That Battle on Keystone Pipeline Is Over Politics, Not Facts,” Davenport claimed that the tar-sands pipeline has little real policy significance.
But most energy and policy experts say the battle over Keystone overshadows the importance of the project as an environmental threat or an engine of the economy. The pipeline will have little effect, they say, on climate change, production of the Canadian oil sands, gasoline prices and the overall job market in the United States.
On Earth Day last year, Davenport penned a nearly identical story, writing, “when it comes to the pipeline’s true impact on global warming, energy and climate change experts — including former Obama administration officials — say Keystone’s political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance.”
The original version of last year’s story understated the scale of the tar-sands pipeline’s greenhouse pollution by a factor of ten.Davenport’s new story relies on experts who have done work on behalf of the oil and gas industry, leading with Robert Stavins, the influential Harvard Kennedy School economist who has studied climate policy for the last thirty years. Stavins claims:
“The political fight about Keystone is vastly greater than the economic, environmental or energy impact of the pipeline itself. It doesn’t make a big difference in energy prices, employment, or climate change either way.”
An active supporter of the boom in natural gas extraction, Stavins also opposes the climate movement’s campaign to divest universities and other institutions from the fossil fuel industry.
It does not appear that Stavins has conducted any published work on Keystone XL or the economics of Canadian tar sands. However, a Kennedy School doctoral candidate named Gabe Chan has analyzed the climate economics of Canada’s tar sands. Chan and his co-authors found that under global policy that maintains a safe climate, Canada’s tar-sands development would collapse. The study raises serious questions about whether approval of Keystone XL is consistent with the international climate commitments the State Department has made at the direction of President Barack Obama.
With climate policies implemented worldwide, the Canadian bitumen production is significantly reduced. Left (e) shows global climate policy scenario, right (f) global climate policy with carbon-capture-and-sequestration technology. (Chan et al. 2012)
The other people denoted as “experts” by Davenport are Robert McNally, a former George W. Bush official who now works as an professional advocate for the oil and natural gas industry, and Christine Tezak, a pipeline-finance analyst, who bet that Keystone XL would be approved in 2011 (as did her current boss, Kevin Book).
Stavins has done consulting work for Chevron, Exelon, Duke Energy, and the Western States Petroleum Association. Neither McNally nor Tezak publicly disclose their clients who are part of or invest in the fossil-fuel industry. None have a scientific background, and none have published work analyzing the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline.
In the words of climate scientist John Abraham, “People who think Keystone is a minor issue don’t understand science and they sure don’t understand economics.”
In short, coal has been a bedrock component of our economy and energy policy for decades. The Proposed Rule, which manifestly proceeds on the opposite premise, thus represents a dramatic change in directions from previous Democratic and Republican administrations.
"It is a remarkable example of executive overreach and an administrative agency’s assertion of power beyond its statutory authority," Tribe and Peabody Energy wrote, in strident language reminiscent of Fox News rhetoric. "Indeed, the Proposed Rule raises serious constitutional questions."
Tribe and Peabody put great weight in the past history of coal's importance to the U.S. economy, as opposed to its future. Hillary Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter get special mention.
Both Democrats and Republicans should stand in strong support of the rule of law. And both Democratic and Republican Administrations have promoted the prudent use of domestic coal in order to reduce dependence on imported oil. In contrast, the Proposed Rule will require a dramatic decline in coal-fired generation of electricity, in order to implement EPA’s system of state-by-state mandates. In fact, under EPA’s plan, the agency envisions that coal generation would be eliminated altogether in 12 states. The Proposed Rule thus reverses policies that reach back to John F. Kennedy. As Hillary Clinton observed in 2007, “I think you have got to admit that coal — of which we have a great and abundant supply in America — is not going away.”
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, now under consideration for approval by the U.S. Senate, would have a significant and dangerous impact on the climate, incompatible with the White House goal of a sustainable climate.
In line with scientific warnings, President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have committed to limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the International Energy Agency’s 2°C scenario, global oil consumption would fall by 50 percent from current levels by 2050, within the intended operating lifetime of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Keystone XL environmental impact statement instead assumes that global oil demand will increase over that time period. The baseline used is the Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook, which projects that global oil consumption will increase by 30 to 40 percent by 2040. In that scenario, the world would be on a pathway for rapid and catastrophic global warming of 4 to 6°C (or greater) by 2100.
To have an 80 percent chance of staying below 2C warming, no more than 900 GtCO2 can be burned before 2050.
In the Keystone XL scenario, over 1700 GtCO2 are burned by 2040—nearly double the safe amount, with a decade to go.
The International Energy Agency scenario reflects an estimated 2/3 chance of staying below 2C warming with the burning of 1260GtCO2 through 2050. Burning 1700 GtCO2 by 2040 would put the world on a catastrophic pathway of 3C warming or more.
The pipeline is intended to ship upwards of 830,000 barrels of tar-sands crude a day for a 40-year lifespan. The pipeline will add 120-200 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to the atmosphere annually, with a lifetime footprint of 6 to 8 billion tons CO2e. That’s as much greenhouse pollution as 40 to 50 average U.S. coal-fired power plants. Furthermore the Keystone XL pipeline is recognized by the tar-sands industry as a key spigot for the future development of the Alberta tar sands, which would emit 840 billion tons CO2e if fully exploited. The carbon dioxide emissions produced by oil that would be moved in this single pipeline would amount to 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and half a percent of the global carbon footprint. Only thirty-two countries have larger annual footprints than this single tar-sands project.
The climate commitments announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in China are momentous given the political status quo, but they still leave human civilization on a catastrophic trajectory, a Hill Heat analysis shows.
The non-binding targets agreed to in Beijing — that China would peak in emissions by 2030 and the U.S. would accelerate emissions cuts to reach 80 percent of current pollution levels (74 percent of 2005 levels) by 2025 — are a positive step forward. Without such targets catastrophic warming is guaranteed.
President Obama reaffirmed that limiting global warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels is his goal, claiming the announced targets “means the United States is doing its part to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius.”
What do the announcements actually mean in the context of what is needed?
Below, we explore the targets in the context of a “Russian roulette” 2C pathway, with pollution levels that scientists estimate lead to a one-in-five chance of exceeding 2C. (Ed.: Russian roulette odds are actually a bit better.)
By 2030, US and China alone will have emitted about 80% of the carbon budget, leaving the other 75% of the global population with little to spare. By 2050, US and China will have emitted about 160% of the carbon budget, making the “Russian roulette” scenario impossible. To be clear, even 2C warming is highly risky, to say the least (Hansen et al, 2013).
Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping concluded a U.S.-China trade summit with the announcement of new climate targets for the two nations. Obama set a U.S. target of a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels. The China commitment is for CO2 emissions to peak by 2030, with a non-fossil-fuel share (renewable and nuclear) of energy production of 20 percent by 2030.
The “fact sheet” released by the White House reads:
U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation
President Obama Announces Ambitious 2025 Target to Cut U.S. Climate Pollution by 26-28 Percent from 2005 Levels
Building on strong progress during the first six years of the Administration, today President Obama announced a new target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.
Together, the U.S. and China account for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change. The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.
The new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025. This ambitious target is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the right trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050.
The Administration’s steady efforts to reduce emissions will deliver ever-larger carbon pollution reductions, public health improvements and consumer savings over time and provide a firm foundation to meet the new U.S. target.
The United States will submit its 2025 target to the Framework Convention on Climate Change as an “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” no later than the first quarter of 2015.
The joint announcement marks the first time China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions. The United States expects that China will succeed in peaking its emissions before 2030 based on its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution.China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable. It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.
The tech exodus from the American Legislative Exchange Council continues, with German software giant SAP ending its membership in the anti-climate lobbying group. The blow is especially harsh as ALEC’s corporate board was chaired by SAP lobbyist Steve Seale. SAP’s departure comes in the wake of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other tech companies leaving in quick succession this fall.
German business journal Manager Magazin reported the departure on Wednesday. “We have decided that we will leave the organization today,” an SAP spokeswoman told the magazine.
The spokeswoman told Manager that the company abandoned ALEC because of its “merkwürdigen” (strange) positions—such as its support for Stand Your Ground laws, climate denial, and opposition to solar energy deployment. Germany’s state-supported solar-power revolution (part of its “Energiewende” transition) is in stark contrast to the United States, in no small part because of the work ALEC has done for decades to oppose renewable energy.
SAP, which touts its sustainability leadership, is a major producer of smart-grid and energy-efficiency solutions. Unlike ALEC, SAP is unambiguous about the threat of fossil-fueled climate change, saying that “with the dangers and costs of global warming and rising carbon dioxide levels, and it’s clear that increased energy efficiency is an absolute must.”
At the UN Climate Summit in New York City this September, SAP signed on to the World Bank effort calling for a global price on carbon pollution.
SAP lobbyist Steve Seale, former ALEC corporate board chair
SAP’s union representatives in Germany were quick to decry the corporation’s involvement in ALEC. “SAP has no place in a political organization that represents the positions of the Tea Party,” a representative told Sorge. His article also noted Google chair Eric Schmidt’s excoriation of ALEC as a group of “liars.”
“SAP America’s strong commitment to the American Legislative Exchange Council is due to the nonprofit’s significant impact and the opportunities it creates for the exchange of ideas,” Seale said upon his appointment to the ALEC board a year ago.
As of publication, Seale is still listed as the chair of the ALEC corporate board on the group’s website.
[UPDATE] “SAP has decided to immediately disassociate itself from ALEC,” a company representative said in a statement given to the Center for Media and Democracy. “The membership had been under review for some time and is now being canceled.”
When asked if the decision was because of ALEC’s climate denial, the representative replied, “Not only [that] position, on gun control and voter rights as well.”
“In the wake of the elections where a clear mandate for limited-government, state-based policies was offered by the American people,” an ALEC spokesperson told National Journal, “it is too bad that companies like SAP are making short-sighted decisions based on misinformation.”
This Election Day, opponents of the hydrofracturing boom achieved a number of local ballot victories, overcoming massive spending by the fossil-fuel industry.
- Voters in Denton, Texas, the “birthplace” of the modern fracking boom, banned fracking in a landslide vote. Supporters of the ban were outspent by the oil-and-gas industry ten to one.
- Athens, Ohio voters “overwhelmingly” passed a ban on fracking. An astounding 78 percent of voters supported the ban.
- Central California’s San Benito County, which lies atop the Monterey Shale formation, passed Measure J to ban fracking, overcoming $1.8 million in spending from Chevron, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and other oil companies. Supporters of the ban won despite being outspent 15 to one.
- Northern California’s Mendocino County likewise passed Measure S to ban fracking, with 67 percent of the vote. The successful effort was led by the Community Rights Network of Mendocino County, a grassroots group of 30 activists supported by groups such as Californians Against Fracking, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, and Global Exchange.
There were additional local victories for oil-industry opponents and environmentalists across the nation.
Speaking at a right-wing conference in Steamboat Springs, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) claimed climate policy is a conspiracy to attack workers in the fossil-fuel industry.
“You know what? This is more than a war on coal, this is a war on workers,” he said. “This is a president who has decided he doesn’t like those jobs, he doesn’t like what they’re doing, and he’s going to put them out of business and out of work.”
“It’s a war on the kind of energy we use every day — fossil fuels — whether it’s gas, coal, oil,” he continued, “because they want to tell us how we live our lives, how we heat our homes, we drive our cars.”
Dick and Liz Cheney were the featured stars at the Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference, which took place in Steamboat Springs, Colo., on August 23, 2013. Gardner was the first speaker at the conference.
Refusing to accept the reality of fossil-fueled global warming, Gardner described policy attempts to reduce fossil-fuel pollution as part of a liberal conspiracy against hard-working Americans.
“It’s about the kind of work that thousands and thousands of men and women are doing each and every day,” Gardner claimed President Obama opposes, “working hard each and every day, to make our lives better, to give us a chance to build a way of life for our families.”
In reality, the coal industry, whose carbon pollution remains unregulated, has been marked by reduced employment and higher corporate profits, as labor protections and regulations have been blocked or eliminated by conservatives.
Gardner went on to criticize Obama and his scientific advisors for explanations they made of how market forces would encourage fuel-switching away from coal given a price on carbon pollution. In doing so, he misidentified Harvard geochemist Dan Schrag, a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, as Obama’s top science advisor, who is in fact Harvard physicist John Holdren.
Both Schrag and Holdren have publicly described the need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions to reduce the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Speaking at a right-wing conference, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) denounced the “radical environmentalists” and “social engineers” who oppose the “individual job creators” who run fossil-fuel companies. Promising the Keystone XL pipeline will get built, Gardner went on to describe his allegiance to the fracking “shale revolution”: “We will rise up, and we will win!”
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), now challenging Democrat Mark Udall’s U.S. Senate seat, has run a campaign as a “likeable” moderate.
Dick and Liz Cheney were the featured stars at the Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference, which took place in Steamboat Springs, Colo., on August 23, 2013. Gardner was the first speaker at the conference.
Gardner’s remarks about the “power” of fossil-fuel executives who “realize what is at stake in this country” alludes to the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers and other campaign contributors.
Gardner is a “long-time friend” of Americans for Prosperity Colorado head Jeff Crank, and is known to have appeared at the Koch’s 2014 summit in California. AFP and the Koch super PAC Freedom Partners have spent over $3 million supporting Gardner’s candidacy, primarily by attacking Udall. Koch Industries is Gardner’s top campaign contributor this cycle. Gardner, who joined Congress in 2011, has raked in $772,000 in campaign contributions from the oil & gas industry.
U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst denied coordinating with outside groups who are involved in the race, despite her participation in a secret summit organized by the Koch brothers in June. Speaking at a Des Moines, Iowa, event on October 23, Ernst claimed she doesn’t have any contact with outside groups that are running negative ads.
“I can’t control the outside groups, with the independent expenditures,” Ernst said. “You know, I don’t have contact with them.”
However, at June Koch summit in Dana Point, Calif., Ernst thanked the Koch network, which is now spending millions of dollars in attack ads and get-out-the-vote efforts on her behalf, for discovering her and powering her candidacy.
“A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory,” Ernst was recorded saying. “We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” she said. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back—that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”
As of October 27, the Koch super PAC Freedom Partners Fund has spent over $3,158,815 for Ernst, and the Koch 501c4 Americans for Prosperity has spent $250,954, according to FEC records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Ernst’s remarks in Des Moines were recorded by the Young Turks Undercurrent’s Lauren Windsor, who said Ernst was caught in a “big fat Koch lie.” Windsor had earlier released the audio recording of Ernst and other GOP Senate candidates speaking at the Koch retreat.
(Windsor is not associated with The Undercurrent, a right-wing libertarian campus magazine that promotes the Koch network.)