Donald Trump’s orders to “revive” the Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline projects, whose progress had been slowed by the Obama administration, are much ado about nothing, the New York Times (1/24/17) reported: “The pipelines were more about symbol than substance but generated enormous passion on both sides of the debate,” wrote the Times‘ Peter Baker and Coral Davenport.
The reporters went on to explain:
Studies showed that the pipeline would not have a momentous effect on jobs or the environment, but both sides made it into a symbolic test case. The State Department estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs for two years—about 3,900 of them in construction and the rest through indirect support, like food service—but only 35 permanent jobs. Similarly, the government concluded that Keystone’s carbon emissions would equal less than 1 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
“Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol,” said David L. Goldwyn, an energy market analyst and a former head of the State Department’s energy bureau in the Obama administration.
Note that for confirmation of the claim that the Keystone XL pipeline will not have a substantial impact on global warming, the Times turns not to an environmentalist or a climate scientist, but to an energy industry consultant—one “who also works as an attorney at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, a go-to law firm for the oil and gas industry,” and is “an outspoken advocate for…oil exports,” as DeSmog Blog (11/19/14) noted.
He’s gone back and forth between working for the fossil fuel industry and working on energy issues inside the government, so it’s unsurprising that when he was the State Department’s “special envoy for international energy affairs,” the State Department put out a report paving the way for Keystone and minimizing its disruption of the climate. State assumed that the tar sands oil will get burned one way or another, an attitude that essentially amounts to kissing much of Florida goodbye, along with other low-lying seacoasts, as there’s no way to present catastrophic climate change without leaving vast amounts of fossil fuels in the ground.
If you hold Keystone XL responsible for all the oil that will actually flow through it on its eventual way to the atmosphere, the pipeline’s impact looks much more dire than the State Department’s fatalistic projection. As Scientific American (4/17/13) reported:
The Keystone XL Pipeline would move enough tar sands oil to result in another 181 million metric tons of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere yearly…. Based on an estimate of 598 kilograms of greenhouse gases per barrel of oil, Keystone’s more than 300 million barrels a year would result in more pollution than that emitted by 37.7 million passenger cars.
Rather than “less than 1 percent,” that 181 million metric tons is closer to 3 percent of the US’s total annual contribution to the destruction of the global climate.
But for the sake of the argument, let’s go with the Times‘ energy analyst-approved estimate of “less than 1 percent” of total US greenhouse emissions. Imagine that percentage in the jobs discussion: With 123 million full-time employees in the US at present, “less than 1 percent” would be roughly a million jobs. If there were credible claims that the pipeline would create a million jobs, year after year, would the Times claim that that was not a “momentous effect” on jobs? That such an impact on employment would be “more about symbol than substance”?
Yet the New York Times is making exactly those assertions about Keystone’s impact on the climate, in the service of false balance and downplaying the impact of Trump’s anti-environmental moves.
Please write to the New York Times and ask them to stop using oil industry consultants as experts on whether Donald Trump’s pro-oil industry moves will be bad for the environment.