WASHINGTON -- A new e-book looks at the historical context for the Keystone XL decision and argues that there is a clear-cut case for why President Barack Obama should reject the proposed pipeline.
Keystone and Beyond, from veteran New York Times reporter and editor John Cushman, was published Thursday by InsideClimate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization. The book traces the Keystone decision back to the presidency of George W. Bush and argues that the pipeline is a "relic of Bush energy policy," proposed at a time when the U.S. relied more heavily on oil imports and the White House refused to acknowledge that climate change was an actual problem.
It was Bush who, in April 2004, signed an executive order to expedite approval of cross-border pipelines. And it was Bush's energy secretary Samuel Bodman who, in July 2006, visited Canada's tar sands and declared that the U.S. would set a goal of cutting imports from "unstable parts of the world," and said that "no single thing can do more to help us reach that goal than realizing the potential of the oil sands of Alberta."
But the energy reality today is far different. As Cushman points out, between January 2013 and December 2014 -- which is perhaps the earliest possible date for a presidential decision on the pipeline -- U.S. domestic production of crude oil will have increased by twice the capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to the Energy Information Administration. At a press briefing on Monday, White House senior counselor John Podesta touted the fact that for the last six months, the U.S. has produced more oil than it has imported from overseas.
Further, if one believes that the U.S. needs to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050 -- a target that the Obama administration has endorsed and that a number of scientific and policy organizations say is necessary to avert serious harm from climate change -- "then you have all the oil you need" without building the pipeline, writes Cushman.
The book was published two days after the White House released a report looking at the effects that climate change will have on the U.S.
Another point Cushman highlights is that, if the pipeline is approved, the Keystone XL-enabled tar sands development will generate approximately 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the State Department's estimates. That's almost the amount of emissions that the Obama administration's improvements to fuel economy standards for automobiles will cut. In other words, the pipeline would nearly cancel out the emissions savings that the administration has declared crucial to meeting climate goals.
"If you believe that everyone in the country is going to eventually stop burning oil, which we must believe, then why would you pursue this expenditure?" said Cushman in an interview with The Huffington Post. "We're confronted with a situation where the arguments made for this pipeline are kind of divorced from reality."
Now, with the Obama administration preparing to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline in the coming months, that process is happening in the context of "completely new facts, completely new instincts, a completely new set of climate realities," said Cushman. "Why would you go make the same decision?"
Cushman said he was rereading Thinking in Time, a 1986 book co-authored by presidential historian Richard Neustadt that looks at leaders' decision-making from a historical perspective. Cushman said this inspired him to consider the Keystone decision through a similar lens.
"For Obama to endorse Bush's 'no-brainer' mentality now, based on these new facts and instincts, would be like reviewing the post-war evidence of Saddam Hussein's mythical weapons of mass destruction, counting up the trillion-dollar cost of the war in Iraq, looking at what has resulted, and deciding to march on Baghdad all over again," Cushman writes in the book. "Just as that war defined Bush's legacy, the Keystone decision is central to Obama's."
The 80-page e-book is available for download here.