03/01/2013 06:54 pm ET Updated May 01, 2013

Keystone XL: Cynicism on the Potomac

You know the news is going to be bad when they bury it at 4 p.m. on a Friday. We dealt with this for eight years during the Bush administration. I never thought we'd be doing it again under John Kerry's State Department.

The State Department's analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal acknowledges that tar sands crude is 17 percent more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional oil. But State says that the overall environmental impacts of the pipeline are limited because, according to their analysis, the oil would be mined and drilled anyway. That's not accurate. Currently, 1.8 million barrels of oil per day are being produced in the tar sands. Permits have already been issued that would allow that extraction to expand to 5 million barrels of oil per day, and the oil industry would like to go even higher. But the oil industry is the first to admit that it needs new pipeline capacity before it can expand:

"When I talk to producers in Alberta, as long as Keystone XL goes ahead, they view that there's pretty sufficient takeaway capacity to get us to late in the next decade."  -- Alex Pourbaix, president of energy and oil pipelines, Transcanada

"All of the crude oil export pipelines are pretty much full, running at maximum capacity... And we're not likely to see any meaningful capacity added to these networks until the end of the year."  -- Vern Yu, VP of business development and market development, Enbridge, Inc.

So the State Department's analysis is not only inaccurate but also incredibly cynical. By this same logic, why would anyone in North America stop new coal plants from being built, if the coal would just be burned in China and India anyway? Why would we try to replace fracked gas or mountaintop-removal coal with solar and wind, if we're powerless as a country to lead the world to a clean energy economy? This is shockingly defeatist thinking from a bureaucracy that is now led by someone who has been a proven and courageous champion of the climate throughout his career.  

I spent this morning on a press conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg discussing how we've succeeded in securing the retirement of 142 coal plants over the past couple of years. Although we've begun to see a clean energy turnaround outside the Beltway, we're still looking for a real sign of strong leadership inside Washington, D.C. Instead, we keep hearing about the inevitability of fossil fuels: All the oil will be burned, no matter how extreme; coal and natural gas should be mined, drilled and fracked, then exported if necessary. Too often, we even hear these tired arguments from climate champions who should know better.

President Obama needs to reconcile his soaring oratory on climate with strong action to turn away from dirty fuels like tar sands oil. Today, the State Department made the president's job much more difficult. But it's still not too late to stop this pipeline. We have until mid-April to speak out and show the president that there is a national movement demanding he keep his climate promises. Send your message to the administration today.