02/01/2014 09:58 am ET Updated Apr 02, 2014

John Kerry vs. Hillary Clinton On The Keystone XL Report

We finally now have the first and only environmental impact assessment of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to come out of Secretary of State John Kerry's U.S. State Department. It's the document that President Barack Obama will cite when he makes his decision on whether to approve this project. (The President would need to make the decision because it would cross international borders.)

Back on 26 March 2013, I headlined, regarding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's revised Keystone XL pipeline report, that "State Department's Keystone XL 'Study' [Is] Now Exposed as a Triple Hoax," and documented that Clinton's redo of her earlier faked report was itself fake, because: first, "The study does discuss 'Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project,' but not the proposed project's impacts on climate change"; and, second, because it was not written by the State Department but by an oil-industry contracting firm (ERM Inc.) that Clinton's State Department had non-competitively assigned to be performed by the company that was selected for this purpose by the corporation (TransCanada) that would own the pipeline; and, third, because that contractor had no climatologist. Both of Clinton's reports were simply fakes; they were barely disguised promo-pieces for TransCanada.

The new XL report from Kerry's State Department was issued on a Friday night (January 31st) like Clinton's was, in order for it to be buried in the weekend's news, like Clinton's was. It is not quite such a fake as Clinton's were. First, it almost discusses the proposed project's impacts on climate change. Second, it was actually written by the State Department; but, still, it had no participation from a climatologist. And, third, the section that lists its hundred-plus participants includes only four people with doctorates, two of whom were actually hired by the State Department. One of these two was an anthropologist, the other was an economist. Two additional Ph.D.s were on the (still-retained) ERM team; one of them was a soil scientist, the other was a civil engineer. Anyway: no climatologist was involved in any of the supposed State Department's supposed now-three environmental impact assessments of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

Like the two Clinton reports, this Kerry report drones on for hundreds of pages about lots of inconsequential things, and pays little attention to climate change, which is overwhelmingly the chief environmental impact that the proposed project is expected to have. Here is what the Kerry report says about this most central issue:

There will be 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere if the proposed pipeline is built and operated over its expected 50-year life cycle, as compared to if it is not. That 1.3-27.4 million is what is estimated to be the added amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide that would result from burning the tar-sands crude as compared to burning normal crude. They estimate that the tar-sands crude will add "147 to 168 MMTCO2," and that burning instead regular crude would add "124 to 159 MMTCO2." The 1.3MMT to 27.4MMT is the difference between those two, over the project's expected 50-year lifespan.

By contrast, Figure 2 on page 3 of this independent report estimates that 33.07 Billion Metric Tons of CO2 (which is adding up the Koch's 19.14 + Conoco's 10.52 + Exxon's 2.6 + Chevron's 0.81) would be produced by burning the tar-sands oil, but no comparison is presented there for the burning of normal oil. The Natural Resources Defense Council has said that "The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would add 935 million to 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution to our atmosphere ... over the 50-year life span of the project," and they based this estimate on something deep inside the revised Clinton report.

Buried on page 64 of "Appendix W" of the revised Clinton Keystone XL report that was issued in March 2013, was this admission, citing from ERM's review of the prior published literature on the subject (and none of this information was included in the State Department's main report):

"According to the results of the TIAX study, incremental [yearly] GHG [Green House Gas] emissions from the portion of WCSB [Alberta Canada] oil sands crudes transported by the proposed Project would be 16.7 MMTCO2e if oil sands crude oil offset an equivalent amount of Middle Eastern Sour crude oil. Incremental emissions would be 13.4 MMTCO2e and 4.0 MMTCO2e annually if oil sands crudes offset Mexican Maya and Venezuelan Bachaquero crude oil, respectively. Based on the results of NETL (2009), incremental emissions from the portion of WCSB oil sands crudes transported by the proposed Project would be 20.7 MMTCO2e annually if oil sands crude oil offset an equivalent amount of Middle Eastern Sour crude oil. Incremental emissions would be 13.8 MMTCO2e and 19.5 MMTCO2e annually if oil sands crudes offset Mexican Maya and Venezuelan Bachaquero crude oil, respectively."

Since those numbers are annual, and since the project would run for an estimated 50 years, those prior studies were saying that the annual added carbon dioxide would be at least around 10 million metric tons, or a total of 500 million metric tons over the project's projected 50-year lifespan. That's in addition to the CO2 that would have been burned if the oil-supply came instead from normal crudes. Compare that to the Kerry report's estimate of 1.3-27.4 MMT. That's off by a factor of around 50: the Kerry report's figure is approximately 50 times too low.

However, even those studies didn't go the final mile, to estimate how many degrees Centigrade or Fahrenheit the proposed project would be adding to the climate's temperature from all of that added atmospheric carbon, throughout that 50-year period.

So: Whereas Hillary Clinton should get an F- for a total fraud, John Kerry should get a D- for his having placed a partial estimate in the main report, though even this partial estimate was way underestimating its portion (the added carbon) of the formula.

For President Obama to tolerate this kind of thing is an outrage, and he ought to be thrown out of office for it, certainly if he approves construction of the Keystone XL on this shoddy (if not outright corrupt) basis, regarding such a momentous decision. If he does that, a motion to impeach should promptly be introduced by Democrats, or else he will be simply a lasting blotch, and historical embarrassment, to the Democratic Party, even if he isn't already one (for other reasons). This would be too much for any decent Democrat to tolerate.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST"S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.