December is traditionally a time to reflect on the past year’s events. Looking back I see wildfires sweeping across the west, droughts plaguing our breadbasket, a first time “derecho” storm taking out east coast electricity amidst soaring temperatures, and “super-storm” Sandy devastating everything in its path. So when we tally up the naughty and nice columns this end of year season, what do we see? I see a fossil fuel industry – and especially an oil industry – that is relentlessly pushing forward with scraping ever more expensive and riskier forms of oil from the ground with no regard for how that will worsen climate change. This year, in addition to a lump of coal, let’s add a sticky lump of tar sands bitumen to their stockings. Perhaps its oozy toxicity will be a wake up call that we need oil companies to stop being radical elements bent on only their own short term gain and instead need them to make good on their promise to become energy companies that can help move us into a healthier future.
You would think that a year of extreme climate events with clear evidence of the high costs that storms and droughts bring to home-owners and businesses would have our leaders putting climate change front and center. This means moving forward with solutions to reduce our use of oil such as further strengthening the very successful fuel efficiency standards. It means curbing climate change pollution through finalizing the carbon standards for new power plants and putting in place standards for existing power plants. It also means calling a halt to new dirty fuels projects such as those that would help drive expansion of Canada’s tar sands oil production. What it does not mean is releasing an environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that explicitly denies its climate impact. This is what the State Department is rumored to be about to do for this transboundary dirty energy project even while President Obama has said that fighting climate change is a critical priority.
An administration committed to fighting climate change and building a clean energy economy cannot turn a blind eye to the far-reaching and potentially devastating impacts of dirty and unnecessary energy projects such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This project is not in the national interest but instead is a plan to ship some of the dirtiest oil in the world across America’s breadbasket to the Gulf coast for export for the benefit of Big Oil rather than the American people. And there is mounting evidence that the Keystone XL project is necessary for the tar sands industry to sustain its reckless expansion plan, including most recently in a report released by two major Canadian banks. It does not pass the laugh test that the State Department would neglect climate change in any assessment of the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Yet, the tar sands oil industry knows what it is doing. The confirmation by the bi-partisan Congressional Research Service that the tar sands oil production has substantially more climate change pollution than the production of conventional oil is a damning fact. From the oil industry’s perspective, the less said about that the better.
American leadership is critical to fighting climate change – not just here at home but around the world. And leadership means that we can’t let the fossil fuel industry undermine clean energy by continuing our dependence on coal and oil. Our leadership needs to not only push forward with clean energy, but also to move us away from the dirty energy choices of the past.
So, as Big Oil opens its stockings this holiday season, I hope that the gooey lumps of tar sands bitumen make them reflect that they can do better than “naughty." The health of all of us depends on clean energy action that protects our climate, our economic well-being, and makes our dependence on oil a thing of the past.