Former Obama official urges Keystone XL approval

WASHINGTON — The ranks of former Obama administration officials coming out in support of Keystone XL grew again on Thursday as recent U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt said it was time to approve the controversial oil pipeline.

In an opinion piece in Science, the publication where she is editor-in-chief, McNutt traced her long path to supporting the pipeline, citing her “personal crusade to minimize fossil fuel use,” her concerns about climate change and her fear that Keystone XL would hasten development of the Canadian oil sands.

“However, the absence of Keystone XL has not stopped development of the Canadian oil sands,” McNutt said, noting that trucks and rail are both viable alternatives to the pipeline.

McNutt’s previous boss at the Interior Department, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, recently said the pipeline should win the president’s approval.

McNutt, who retired in 2013 after four years at the helm of the USGS, recommended a horse trade of sorts on Keystone XL, under which Obama “could put conditions on approval that require Canadian authorities to reduce the carbon intensity of extracting the tar from the oil sands and processing it into a liquid petroleum product.”

Related story: Environmentalists question substance of Keystone fight

Revenue from Keystone XL also could be steered to investments in renewable energy, McNutt suggested.

It’s “time to insist on concessions so that building the pipeline ultimately reduces GHG emissions and speeds progress toward renewable energy,” McNutt said.

It’s not the first time such an arrangement has been discussed, though Canadian officials have ruled out any kind of “quid pro quo” and it’s unclear that Obama could formally insist Canada offset carbon emissions as part of a presidential permit authorizing Keystone XL.

Environmentalists also have flatly rejected the idea, saying that any serious commitment to combatting climate change demands the pipeline’s refusal.

Environmentalists say that Keystone XL could contribute to climate change by expanding the marketplace for Canada’s oil sands crude. Because the bitumen in Canada’s oil sands is harvested through mining and energy-intensive steam-assisted techniques, it may have a higher carbon footprint than conventional crude.


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