Obama Tells Keystone Foes He Will Unveil Climate Measures

By Lisa Lerer - Jun 13, 2013

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
A sixty-foot section of pipe is lowered into a trench during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Oklahoma. The Gulf Coast Project, constructed by TransCanada Corp., is part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project and will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Nederland, Texas.

With his administration under pressure from environmentalists to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project, President Barack Obama plans to unveil a package of separate actions next month focused on curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Protesters against the Keystone XL pipeline project demonstrate at a visit by President Barack Obama to a fundraiser in Santa Monica, California on June 7, 2013. Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

While U.S. President Barack Obama has not detailed the specifics of his plan to the donors, pipeline opponents anticipate the package will include a plan from the Environmental Protection Agency to issue final rules to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants. Photographer: Andrew Harer/Bloomberg

At closed-door fundraisers held over the past few weeks, the president has been telling Democratic party donors that he will unveil new climate proposals in July, according to people who have attended the events or been briefed.

Obama’s promise frequently comes in response to pleas from donors to reject TransCanada Corp (TRP).’s proposed Keystone XL project, a $5.3 billion pipeline that would carry tar-sands oil from Canada to U.S. refineries. Opponents of the pipeline say it would increase greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging use of the tar sands.

While Obama has not detailed the specifics of his plan to the donors, pipeline opponents anticipate the package will include a plan from the Environmental Protection Agency to issue final rules to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants. In April, the EPA delayed issuing the rule after the electric-power industry objected on legal and technical grounds. Since then, the agency has been rewriting the rule to address those concerns.

The White House plan may also include a standard for limits on existing power plants, something EPA officials have said they expect to propose in the next 18 months.

Final decisions about the specific policies included in the president’s package are still being made, according to a person close to the White House.

Government’s Role

Speaking to donors in Palo Alto, California last week, Obama called the need for action on climate change one of the “most important decisions” facing the country.

“We’re not going to be able to make those changes solely through a bunch of individual decisions,” he said at a June 6 event hosted by Flipboard CEO Mike McCue. “Government is going to have a role to play.”

With Congress unlikely to take up a climate bill, the plans largely focus on actions the president can take with his existing executive authority. Internally, White House officials have been soliciting ideas for administrative actions that can be taken to curb greenhouse gases.

White House officials didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Administration aides, however, hinted earlier this week that more action may be coming soon.

“In the coming weeks and months, you can expect to hear more from the president on this issue,” White House environment and energy adviser Heather Zichal said at an environmental forum on June 11.

Carbon Emissions

Climate advocates have urged the president to move quickly and release plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“If he’s serious about it, he needs to get a plan in place,” former vice president Al Gore told listeners in a Google video chat on June 11. “He needs to use the bully pulpit.”

Any climate proposal released by the White House could be overshadowed politically by the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline is designed to carry about 830,000 barrels a day from Alberta and shale formations in the U.S. along a route that would traverse six states. The administration has previously given approval for the pipeline’s southern leg to relieve an oil glut in Cushing, Oklahoma.

Oil and gas producers say the project will create thousands of jobs and boost U.S. energy security.

Symbolic Test

The environmental community has mobilized in opposition to the project, which has become a test of the president’s commitment to curbing climate change.
The State Department is currently assessing the impacts of the pipeline and is expected to release a final environmental review in the coming weeks.

The draft State Department environmental impact statement concluded the Alberta oil would find its way to customers with or without Keystone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the department’s review wasn’t thorough enough.

After the State Department issues a final environmental assessment, it will determine whether Keystone is in the national interest by evaluating issues such as economic impact, trade and relations with foreign governments. A final decision is expected in the U.S. fall.

Climate Agenda

“Keystone XL and the moral urgency of climate change will determine this president’s place in history more than anything else,” said John Sellers, executive director of The Other 98%, a non-profit that opposes the pipeline, in a conference call with reporters this week. “President Obama can be the FDR of this moment and say no to dirty fossil fuels, or he can lock us and our children into a future of climate chaos.”

Global emissions of carbon dioxide rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to record levels, according to a report this week by the International Energy Agency.

“A broader climate agenda is far more important in the grand scheme of things,” said Josh Freed, director of the Clean Energy Program at Third Way, a Democratic-leaning policy group inWashington, D.C. “Keystone is a battle but climate is the war.”