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How the Media Rushed to Judgement on the Keystone XL Review

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On Friday, the State Department released its much anticipated final environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, acknowledging for the first time Keystone XL could accelerate climate change if fights to stop new pipelines are successful and oil demand drops.

That's big news. It means that if social movements to stop fossil fuel expansion combined with aggressive carbon pricing, it would create the situation that environmentalists have long said would happen: Keystone XL will unlock more exploitation of the tar sands, one of the largest pools of carbon on the planet.

Sadly, much of the media didn't report this fact, and the industry took that opportunity to spin the release as a victory. During the rush to be first, some media characterized the report as a green light for President Obama to sign off on the pipeline. The New York Times headline reads "Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline." Here's AP's: "Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Clears Significant Hurdle."

Both headlines are far from the truth and were published just minutes after the State Department issued its document, a highly technical analysis that contains an important scenario that makes Keystone XL not in the national interest. In this situation, the State Department said that the climate impact of the pipeline could be upwards of 27.4 MMTCO2e annually, which is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles.

If this comes to pass, that would certainly meet Obama's test of "significantly exacerbating" global warming emissions, to say nothing of the risks to our land and water.

What really gets me about how the media handled this release was the cynicism in their coverage. It assumes a business-as-usual approach to our energy choices and doesn't provide the context of what those choices would mean for the climate or the people who live near fossil fuel development sites, some of whom are experiencing a horrific spike in cancer rates and other negative health outcomes.

The media must report that we can reduce our carbon pollution. They must say that we are transitioning to cleaner energy. In fact, that we must speed that transition or situations like the drought in California will be routine, not exceptions.

Most greens that I know think that State's review has more than enough in it for the president to reject the pipeline. Bu good luck finding that in the media.

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