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Congressional Republicans ensured the death of the Keystone XL pipeline. By forcing Obama to decide on granting a permit within 60 days, they made it impossible to re-route the pipeline in a way that Nebraska lawmakers would find less unacceptable than the original route. Republicans did this to make an election point. On that front, I’m a little bit worried. With gas prices rising again, discontent could rise too and even though Keystone would mean nothing for gas prices in the short term, the president and his political party always suffer. On the other hand, gas was high 4 years ago and people are slowly accepting this new reality, Michelle Bachmann’s laughable pledge to get gas back to $2 notwithstanding.

So this is a pretty big victory for those trying to move us to a cleaner energy future, those opposed to massive pollution and those fighting climate change. Of course, others are upset about this. David Frum has an odd column bemoaning its failure, saying that environmentalists shouldn’t celebrate and that we need to build our way to the future, not deny permits. Yglesias retweeted this column with full his full approval: “What @davidfrum said.” You mean denying this one permit isn’t going to halt climate change and isn’t the final answer to all our energy questions? Who knew! Frum might be right that we need some carbon taxes, but it is an absolute environmental victory to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

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  • snarkout

    Good riddance. (And it’s nice to see that Bill McKibben was right.)

  • shah8

    This is a very blinkered view, Loomis.

    1) It’s a setback, not a final rejection for the people who want a pipeline. Too much money involved. Cheering for the staggering of an opponent instead of a TKO is good for boxing matches, but not in policy conflicts.

    2) In the general public view, there has been *way* too much focus on relative trivialities (yeah, even spoiling an aquifer) instead of the general concept that oil sands mining is an unviable means of extracting energy.

    3) More than anything else, we need overarching conceptualization of energy, for taxing and regulation purposes. A goddamned BTU tax, or any sort of real carbon tax is mandatory. Nancy Pelosi getting that environmental bill was a vastly bigger deal, and it’s passage and death in the Senate was totally obscured by progressives (it seems) when those events happened.

    We keep cheering for the rejection of obviously stupid plans, when we’re totally demoralized about the promotion and acceptance of game changing laws.

    • Cheering for the staggering of an opponent instead of a TKO is good for boxing matches, but not in policy conflicts.

      Community organizing teaches that celebrating small victories is important for morale and for gaining broader support for the larger project.

      • shah8

        We will never get affirmative support from the US “community” for the larger project of rationalization of externalities. That is, and if you read environmental history, and always has been, an elite-driven project.

        Lobbying is how we’ll get that, and spending our time lobbying for peanuts is just a good way to wind up doing tricks for peanuts.

        • for the larger project of rationalization of externalities.

          Not if you fame the issue like that, no.

          Your theory of never working for incremental progress, and only treating huge, defining victories as worth pursuing, has never, ever produced any of the progressive advances this country has taken.

    • McKingford

      oil sands mining

      TAR sands mining.

      Don’t buy the orwellian euphamism of the tar sands industry.

      What is extracted (and this extraction process is incredible to begin with) from the tar sands is so high in bitumen that they have to pipe a form of refined oil from Calgary to dilute it just to allow it to properly flow in the pipeline out of Fort McMurray.

      • JAtheist

        If I understand this correctly, the refined oil that is piped-in would be basically, “carrying” the high-bitumen extract?

        Why Calgary? Is that just the closest place with the best infrastructure in order to pipe stuff in?

  • shah8

    Read David Frum’s column.

    Yglesias is crazy to have anything to do with that.

    • shah8

      The column is full of unworked through ideas, so it has all the hobbyhorses…

      But Frum is oblivious to the extent that some sources of oil is better than others. Also, a carbon tax is not really meant to increase conservation of energy, or make our economy less vulnerable to energy shocks (The original Clintonian BTU tax was a bit about energy shocks, I believe). A carbon tax is supposed to reinternalize externalities associated with burning carbon rich items, and make the costs of burning them higher to compensate for government revenues being lost to pollution. A more global point is to get us off of any coal burning (other than that sweet, sweet, high grade coal that burns relatively cleanly). Same with oil sands, which has most of the problems of coal mining and burning.

    • No, Yglesias is Yglesias to have anything to do with that.

  • Jason

    Stopping the Keystone pipeline is good for the local ecosystems that would be affected by it.

    But how is it a “big victory” for those “fighting climate change”? It is such a victory only if will contribute to a reduction in the consumption of greenhouse gases. I can’t think of any plausible mechanism, direct or indirect, by which it will have this effect. Frum seems right about that.

    Yglesias’s general theme on climate change is that progressives should dedicate attention to enabling the passage of legislation that would affect consumption of greenhouse gases, rather than to issues like the Keystone pipeline. He is completely wrong to assume, as he apparently does, that there is a fixed quantity of “attention” to divvy up to causes, and so that these decisions amount to a zero-sum game. On the other hand, he is right about the kind of legislation that would actually bear on climate change–namely, things like carbon taxes.

    • scott

      Good points, which illustrate MY’s weird tendency to have his abstract principles lead to absurd conclusions. In this case, his apparent desire to have game-changing results and to avoid (to him) small-bore abstractions lead him to endorse a guy’s support for a pipeline the locals don’t want and that they’re afraid will endanger their health. Why do we have to sacrifice the latter for the former? I get really tired of this approach, whose 50,000 feet level of abstraction discounts how policies will affect real people in favor of having interesting Grand Strategy Discussions at a level of pleasing generality.

    • See Real Climate on the amount of CO2 that would come from Keystone transported goo. It is non-trivial.

  • Cynthia Dudley

    I still have no idea why anyone would support this idea of shipping poisonous dense oil across hundreds of miles so that it can be refined at the closest port to ship it to sell in foreign countries. I get the jobs to build the monstrosity yadda yadda but I don’t get how Canadians are supposed to go along with giving Americans the biggest mark-up on a product that starts in Canada and could supply a huge number of refining jobs on the Canadian side and why Americans are supposed to buy into the idea that moving the oil from the far North to the Gulf South so that it will ultimately be used in the North East and Great Lake states makes any sense at all when Texas has that huge export port right next to their refineries.

    • me me me

      And lets not forget that the port you mention is in a “special enterprise zone”. So basically the Republicans are outraged that private business interests don’t get to use the government’s power of eminent domain to run a pipeline across private property for the purpose of exporting it tax-free.

    • David W.

      Here’s part of the reason why some Canadians aren’t so keen on shipping oil out themselves:

      Pipeline Through Paradise

      • Cynthia Dudley

        Except that I don’t support shipping over pristine mountains to create a potential toxic soup out of beautiful rocky beaches. I do believe that refineries can be built next to the oilsands and the heavy crude can be turned into the exact products needed for the use of the Northern states that have the highest demand. Then we can use existing pipelines to move the final product as needed.

    • Njorl

      Profit margins on refining are low and dropping while profit margins on extraction are large and increasing.

      Where’d you get the idea that the refiners make the big part of the profits?

  • JRoth

    Thanks for the reminder of why I gave up reading MY when he announced he was moving to Slate. For a guy with Yglesias’ tendencies to go to an outlet like that is like sending a person with a gambling problem to work in a casino. There was never any chance that he wouldn’t kick his production of idiotic, reality-proof neoliberalism into overdrive.

    • McKingford

      This. Right there with you, bro.

  • JRoth

    BTW, on a topic near and dear to LGM’s heart, isn’t the Frum/MY argument basically the counter mobilization myth applied to environmentalism?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, have too much on my plate, but I’ll try to get to that.

      • shah8

        MY’s actual post is sensible. Frum’s column is concern trolling at it’s most subtle. It’s quite the work of art, with little sarcasm on my part. It’s not countermobilization, quite, but an attempt at demoralization. It’s not really an advocacy of energy taxes either. If you read the column, it’s a description (with lots of loaded memes, like “from California”, “smaller cars/homes”, etc, etc) of energy taxes rather than any genuine advocacy, and written in such a way to encourage opposition to a policy stance. With that in mind, it’s designed to get people to throw up hands and think we can’t doing anything after all.

  • wengler

    Popular hatred of the environment is a Republican myth that won’t go away…

  • Njorl

    So this is a pretty big victory for those trying to move us to a cleaner energy future,

    If the pipeline is permanently stopped, it is a very small victory, not a large one. It’s a small victory with regard to greenhouse gasses and the specific land and aquifers which would be traversed. With respect to the environment of Pacific Coastal waters, it’s a defeat.

    I doubt the effect of this on CO2 levels will be as significant as a nickel per gallon gas tax increase increase would be.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I doubt the effect of this on CO2 levels will be as significant as a nickel per gallon gas tax increase increase would be.

      But again, this is just a non-sequitur. It’s not like letting the pipeline go ahead would make a gas tax more likely.

      • Njorl

        Resources used to do one thing are resources which can’t be used for something else. The concept of opportunity costs is not a fairy tale.

        Obviously, I can’t say that the resources would have been better spent elsewhere. That would be a ridiculously difficult thing to prove. It could easily be true that leveraging the sentiments of the people of Nebraska who are not normally allies of the environmental movement made this an attractive target of opportunity. I can say that the benefits of defeating this pipeline were overhyped, and the benefits of a carbon tax are routinely underhyped.

        I suppose it’s possible that any victory could strengthen the environmental movement, and thereby generate more resources than were used, but in environmental battles, backlash often outweighs any moral boost.

    • Marc

      And we’re therefore not allowed to be pleased, because doom is inevitable through other channels.

      Because, of course, it’s totally impossible that we could avoid developing this ecological disaster?

      • Njorl

        I said it was a small victory. Small victories are things to be pleased with. But it is being blown out of all proportion.

  • Weird- this project has been debated for years, and yet it was the 60 day deadline that the GOP that killed it? A lot can be done in 60 days- in fact, Obama has another 12 or so to scramble and put on the pressure to get this pipeline deal done, and yet threw in the towel already.

    Come off it. Obama hates America and wants us all to lose our jobs so we are dependent on his largess. This policy decision is evidence of that.

    • Malaclypse

      Obama hates America and wants us all to lose our jobs so we are dependent on his largess. This policy decision is evidence of that.

      That seems likely. I assume he also wants to force us all to get gay married, and live under sharia law. Also, fluoridation.

      • I assume he also wants to force us all to get gay married, and live under sharia law.

        Thus, to KILL US!

      • Bill Murray

        you are forgetting our forced abortions

        • Malaclypse

          No, I had invoked taquia to lull A Conservative Troll into a false sense of security.

    • West of the Cascades

      A Conservative Teacher —

      are you serious, or is that sarcasm? If you’re serious, you’re a loony. The State Department (and State of Nebraska) had proposed investigating an alternative pipeline route that would avoid the Nebraska Sand Hills and Ogalalla aquifer. Surveying a new route, conducting a new environmental analysis (including consultations on endangered species and state-level reviews) would take a minimum of 18 months (and that’s far shorter than the review would take if you were starting the whole route from Canada to Houston from scratch).

      That is the nature of environmental review (and it is A GOOD THING because it’s designed to make sure that impacts of a project like this pipeline minimize impacts to the environment, or allow a rational decisionmaker to decide that the negative impacts and costs outweigh the benefits and definitively reject a project.

      What the Republicans in Congress did in forcing an artificial 60 day deadline was the rankest politics, and an affront to informed public decisionmaking (and, ironically a slap in the face of the State of Nebraska). To me (someone who practices environmental law), the GOP look even more like a bunch of vile scum who have no values other than “do whatever is expedient in the pursuit of power,” without regard to reason or the impact to the lives of human beings and other living things within our 50 states.

      And what makes me particularly upset is that The Media will sell this in simplistic 30-second sound bites, instead of illuminating the question that the State Department WAS willing to try to answer, namely, is there an alternative route for the pipeline that would alleviate some of the DIRECT impacts of the proposed route? It might not ultimately have satisfied those (myself included) who object to the INDIRECT impacts of Keystone in transporting tar-sands oil, but it was worth going through the process — unless you are a Republican interested only in scoring political points.

      The GOP, particularly in the House, have demonstrated time and again the past year and a half that they don’t give two shakes about “jobs” — until it comes to something they can use for political gain.


      • zanamu

        As a Nebraskan that received calls on this daily for almost a year, I want people to understand how very republican this state is: all 3 representatives, Sen Johanns, and Ben Nelson (DINO). Our Governor. All the constitutional officers. 70% of the “nonpartisan” legislature.
        Screw politics: we Nebraskans LOVE the Ogllala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 7 states. Nebraskans are also cheapskates – hence the Unicameral. NO ONE was able to honestly tell us that Nebraska would not be on the hook for an environmental catastrophe, a la the one on the Yellowstone River last year.
        The morons in the Republican party are trying to make an issue of a pipeline that would have gone through, after rerouting. The thing is, all they have to do is piggyback it on a different route, and everything would be sparkly fairydust.
        It probably will eventually go thru Nebraska anyway, because I’m pretty sure British Columbia isn’t looking forward to the “alternate route” proposed through some of the most scenic country in the world, not to mention a few Indian Reservations, and ending at the Pacific.
        Lucky for the National Republican Party, Nebraska republicans are sufficiently gullible and Fox-addicted that they will probably forget in a couple of hours whose fault it is, and figure out a way to blame Obama anyway. Obama, BTW, has my vote forever, since he the closest thing I have to a representative in DC. It sure as hell isn’t Johanns, Nelson, or Fortenberry, spineless jackasses all.

    • Weird- this project has been debated for years, and yet it was the 60 day deadline that the GOP that killed it? A lot can be done in 60 days- in fact, Obama has another 12 or so to scramble and put on the pressure to get this pipeline deal done, and yet threw in the towel already.

      On top of the obvious problems with this paragraph, there’s this one;

      This commenter doesn’t seem to understand that cutting a political deal and doing an environmental and regulatory review are two different things. Yes, Obama could have made some sausage in Congress and sent political operatives to lean on scientists and gotten a political deal done inside of 60 days, but that’s so totally not the point.

    • DrDick

      And Conservative Teacher demonstrates once again why he should never be allowed within a light year of a classroom or a student.

  • I’m very glad this happened.

    I don’t imagine that Bush’s State Department would have needed all 60 days to say, “Oh, hell yeah!” to the project.

    I worry that the Republicans might not be completely stupid, and that setting up Obama to kill the pipeline before the election might actually turn out to be a good political gambit.

    Not just for Obama, either. If they can tie economic doldrums and/or high gas prices to this decision, it’s not just Obama that suffers, but the overall climate change movement.

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  • Jonathan

    You make a basic mistake that I see being made repeatedly. Keystone would not affect gas prices, no matter what. The tar sands only produce heavy sour crude. Heavy sour crude is only good for making diesel fuel, high-sulphur diesel at that. You need light sweet crude to make gasoline. What gets mined out of the tar sands will never end up in your car. Even if you have a diesel, high-sulphur diesel is banned from vehicular use in most states and bad for the engine as well.

    • JAtheist

      I’m a few days late, but is that the case pretty much for all tar sands, that they are processed into diesel?

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  • JR in WV

    My understanding of the purpose of the Keystone pipeline is that it will make it easier/cheaper for Canadian companies to export their tar-sand oil to countries other than the United States.

    The taqr-sand oils are already easily moved to mid-western refineries where various fuels can be manufactured for the American market. But there might be more money to be made by selling this heavy crude to, say, Japan. Or China.

    I see no reason that we should invest a lot of money, and take the associated environmental risks, to allow a pipeline that won’t benefit us at all, for the benefit of Canadian investors.

    They can build a pipeline of their own, through Canada, at their expense and risk, and export their heavy crude to whomever might out-bid American refiners…

    So there.

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