Former US president joins opposition to Keystone XL

WASHINGTON — Former President Jimmy Carter joined fellow Nobel laureates Wednesday in opposing Keystone XL, insisting that approving the pipeline would trigger “more climate upheaval” around the globe.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Carter and the nine other Nobel Peace Prize winners bluntly warned the leaders: “Your decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will define your climate legacy.”

The missive, published as an advertisement in Politico, represents the first time Carter has taken a position on the $5.4 billion project and makes him the first former president to come out against the pipeline.

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Other former presidents have been more circumspect. Former President George W. Bush described TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline as a “no brainer” for the U.S. economy two years ago.

And while Bush and former president Bill Clinton both are featured in an American Petroleum Institute advertisement as having endorsed the pipeline, Clinton’s sole public remarks on the project were far more qualified. Clinton’s relative silence on the issue may be in part attributed to his wife Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential aspirations — and her own role overseeing some of the Keystone XL reviews as the previous secretary of state.

Split opinion

Other prominent political leaders, including former members of the Obama administration, have been divided over the issue. Notable supporters include former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the previous director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt. Obama’s former energy adviser and a previous Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Carol Browner, opposes the project.

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Most of the Nobel laureates urging Keystone XL’s rejection Wednesday have made similar entreaties twice before. The group also includes American political activist Jody Williams, Iranian human rights leader Shirin Ebadi and women’s peace movement leader Leymah Gbowee from Liberia.

The Nobel prize winners cast Keystone XL as the “linchpin” to unlocking development of Canada’s oil sands, by linking the energy development in Alberta with the crude hub in Cushing, Okla., and ultimately giving the product a new route to the Gulf Coast market. That bucks the conclusion of a State Department study of the project released in January.

Because the oil sands development generally relies on strip mining or techniques involving steam, the resulting bitumen extracted from Alberta is often criticized as having a higher carbon footprint than alternative crudes when evaluated over its entire life cycle, from production to combustion.

‘Dangerous commitment’

“As you deliberate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, you are poised to make a decision that will signal either a dangerous commitment to the status quo or bold leadership that will inspire millions counting on you to do the right thing for our shared climate,” the Nobel laureates tell Obama and Kerry. “The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would have meaningful and significant impacts in reducing carbon pollution.”

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Energy industry representatives who support the pipeline insist that the bitumen extracted from Canada’s oil sands has roughly the same carbon emissions as other heavy crudes it would likely displace in Gulf Coast refineries.

And they point to findings in the State Department’s environmental study suggesting other forms of transporting Canada’s oil sands crude — including sending it by rail to the Gulf Coast — would have a bigger carbon footprint.

The State Department is currently weighing whether Keystone XL is in the national interest — a determination required under a 2004 executive order that wraps in international, economic and security concerns as well as environmental considerations.

Several federal agencies have until mid May to weigh in on the question, but there is no timeline for a final decision after that.

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