Some call it oil. Others call it tar. Still, U.S. President Barack Obama appears disinclined to call the whole thing off over a simple matter of nomenclature.
In a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, the second-term Commander in Chief, mired in legislative gridlock, makes one thing more or less clear: Alberta bitumen must pass his administration’s litmus test for environmental benignity before it gets piped to refineries in Texas.
On whether the sandy crude should, in the alternative, be railed to said locations (and, therefore, cause more carbon pollution than a pipeline ever could), he doesn’t venture an opinion. Such is the kookiness of Keystone politics these days.
Clearly, Mr. Obama – who is as lame a duck as a president can get – has nothing to lose, and he knows it. The “audacity of hope” minstrel is back in full-throated glory, appealing to every possible constituency under the setting sun of his mandate.
“The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years,” he roars to the delight of environmentalists. “Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record – faster than most models had predicted it would. These are facts.”
Here are some others: “2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s.”
In fact, he says, “The question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science – of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements – has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it. . .As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.”
That is the zig; now for the zag.
“One thing I want to make sure everybody understands. . .This does not mean that we’re going to suddenly stop producing fossil fuels,” he declares to the relief of the oil lobby. “Our economy wouldn’t run very well if it did. And transitioning to a clean energy economy takes time. . .I know there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. . .I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
Ah yes, something for everyone. Most of all, perhaps for Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who’s still hung up on the whole “tar sands” versus “oil sands” business. “There is no tar in the oil sands,” he told a news conference in Ottawa, following Mr. Obama’s speech. “Not everyone understands that.”
But on the broad stokes of the president’s address, Mr. Oliver was sanguine. “We agree with President Obama’s State Department Report in 2013 which found that, ‘approval or denial of the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area’.”
All of which reasons strategically for an eastern pipeline into Saint John. After all, the more Alberta oil that can be diverted away from the American marketplace, the more persuasive the argument for Keystone becomes in Washington.
Some say “to-may-toe”. Others say “to-mah-toe”. Still, it seems clear, they’re calling the whole thing on, and everybody wins.
Except, perhaps, the planet, which stubbornly refuses to appreciate the nuances of politics.