Obama Throws Down Climate Gauntlet

gauntletPresident Obama today gave a speech that marks a turning point in U.S. energy policy and the foundation for comprehensive climate change policy. He also, unexpectedly, addressed directly the question of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“… We can’t just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge that we face. That’s not possible. I put forward and passed an “all of the above” energy strategy, but that strategy can’t just be about producing more oil.

By the way it, it certainly must be about more than just building one pipeline. Now, I know there’s been for example a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build the pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal, that’s how it’s always been done.

But 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. The net effects of the pipeline’s impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. …”–President Obama, during climate address today at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in The Washington Post, “The president realizes that you can’t combat climate change without a direct confrontation with the fossil fuel industry. What has us most encouraged by the president’s speech is he is lacing up his gloves and getting ready for that fight.”

“Not only is this by far the most comprehensive and ambitious administrative plan proposed by any president, it’s also common sense and very popular with the public,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

President Obama’s comments on the Keystone XL are not substantially different from what he has said in the past. They key quote is: “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

So far, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the net effects of the pipeline’s impact will significantly increase carbon pollution. The State Departments reports have indicated that there will be no net increase (using data provided to them by TransCanada, which presumably has a vested interest in the data). One crucial issue will be naming the new head of the EPA. Will a new director mean a different outcome on the Keystone climate impact?

But it is startling that President Obama brought Keystone up at all, when he wasn’t expected to. As I say, everyday without the Keystone is another day of victory.

It’s important to keep all of this in perspective. The U.S. economy must become largely fossil-fuel independent by 2050. All of the things President Obama announced are steps in that direction. Most are modest steps. Some might turn out to be large steps.

But everything we do from now on out must pass the climate litmus test: Does this decision take us closer to fossil-fuel independence? If yes, okay. If no, then don’t do it–and don’t waste time arguing about it. For Christians this kind of conversion is familiar. We keep our eyes on the prize. When we fall down, we get back up through God’s grace. We can be the ones to model Spirit-powered change for our nation and our world.–Rose Mare Berger

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