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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Definition of “keystone”:
1. A central stone at the summit of an arch, locking the whole together.
2. The central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends.
Recently, The Roanoke Times ran two op-eds about climate change (“Climate change: our challenge,” Aug. 6, and “Climate change: no time to waste,” Aug. 10). I’d like to add to the climate change discussion and show why the decision over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is potentially the keystone for the ambitions of the Obama administration and for the health of our planet and future generations.
One possible reason President Obama has not yet outright rejected the Keystone XL pipeline is to solidify an alliance with Canada to balance the power of a rising China. Since the Keystone XL pipeline is important to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama may be considering how the pipeline decision would affect our alliance with Canada. Without a viable pipeline, Canada is losing a great deal of money. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce estimated that in 2012, Canadians lost $50 million per day because their oil cannot be transported to international markets. Currently, Canadian oil is sold to U.S. companies at about $30 per barrel below world market prices.
Obama wants to rebalance the power of a rising China, to be the free-trade agreement leader who finalizes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and to lead internationally on climate change. These three goals are connected, with the Keystone XL pipeline possibly the central part of the connection.
China has invested more than $23 billion in the Canadian tar sands. This amount includes China’s February purchase of Canadian oil and gas company Nexen for $15.1 billion. With the Nexen deal, China’s government alone will control almost 10 percent of oil extraction in Canada’s tar sands. China’s growing sphere of influence could affect the United States’ ability to navigate China’s surrounding waters and to access markets.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free-trade agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific-rim countries, including Canada. Under many free-trade agreements, corporations can sue governments over policies that hurt their profits.
Such suits are a way for corporations to undermine environmental laws and regulations. The TPP would greatly expand this corporate scheme, which exploits and harms the environment and wildlife. Obama has been vying to get what is called Fast Track authority from Congress in order to finalize the TPP deal. The TPP is crucial to the administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” because the TPP would balance potential Chinese dominance in the region.
Obama’s new national Climate Action Plan gives him increased credibility going into the United Nations climate summit in December 2015. The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would give him additional credibility to lead a real international effort to combat climate change. In his climate speech on June 25, he said, “[T]he final part of our plan calls on America to lead — lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.”
Even though these connections suggest some reasons the president may want to approve the pipeline, I emphatically urge him to reject it. Some say that the tar sands will be developed one way or another, but the extraction of the tar sands is not inevitable. The Keystone XL pipeline is the piece of the picture that would make it profitable to exploit the tar sands in Canada. The oil profits that the Keystone XL would facilitate are a huge incentive to exploit as much as possible. But if Canada can’t get its tar sands oil to market, there will be less production; and other options to transport the oil face just as much, if not more, opposition.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine has said in regard to the pipeline, “[W]e may not be able to control what other nations do, but that’s no reason to embrace a lowest-common-denominator approach.”
The act of rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline may have more far-reaching effects than we can know. It just may be the keystone that could alter our relationship with our environment.
So let us keep the Canadian tar sands in the Boreal forest where they serve its ecosystems, wildlife and all of us, and step-by-step, let us work together to keep all the tar sands in the land.
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