With his decision on November 10 to review the route of the Keystone XL pipeline—and delay a final determination on whether to give the green light—President Obama had likely wished that the issue would not surface again until after the 2012 elections. But politics are not so easy, especially when it comes to this 1,700-mile long project that would carry 800,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. To put it in perspective, that amount is about half of what the U.S. imports from the Middle East.
This week, the Keystone XL pipeline is yet again taking center stage. Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to hold hostage the president’s top legislative priority for December—extension of the payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance—unless the package includes a provision that would move the decision making over the pipeline from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and shorten the period in which a decision must be made. Obama’s response came yesterday after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll-tax cut, I will reject.”
Get ready for a showdown. On Thursday, the House leadership announced that the vote will occur next week.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration and Alberta’s regional government have pledged to develop a plan to correct “significant” flaws in the environmental oversight and pollution monitoring program of Canada’s vast oil sands within 90 days. The announcement follows a report from the federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel, which highlighted “significant shortcomings in the monitoring system as a whole” and forced Environment Minister John Baird to acknowledge that the administration has failed to adequately monitor the impact of oil sands exploitation on air, water and land resources.
The oil sands industry plans to expand production to 3.4 million barrels a day by 2020. The proposed expansion of production in Canada is also meeting some opposition in the U.S. as environmental groups lobby to block the expansion of the pipeline that carries Canadian crude oil to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois.
Critics of the oil sands project and expanded production contend that the Canadian government should take a stronger role in protecting the environment under existing legislation, instead of leaving responsibility to regional governments that have thus far failed to adequately protect the environment, according to the report.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.