Blocking of Keystone XL for Climate Reasons Made No Sense

by | Jan 15, 2019 |

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President Donald Trump was right to call a federal judge’s ruling in November that blocked the Keystone XL oil pipeline “a disgrace.” For if the Obama-appointed judge, Brian M. Morris of the District of Montana, had a proper understanding of climate science, he would have completely rejected global warming and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions concerns as excuses to suspend the project.

Instead, Morris ruled that the State Department must assess the impact of GHG emissions from the Keystone XL and that the Department failed to comply with existing regulations when it allegedly “disregarded prior factual findings related to climate change and reversed course.” He then gave the Department instructions to provide “a reasoned explanation” for this change in course.

While there were many issues brought up in the case, it is clear that the major driver leading to the court challenge was the hypothesized impact of Keystone XL-related GHG emissions on climate and activists’ abhorrence of fossil fuels. Greenpeace Canada’s Climate & Energy campaigner Mike Hudema said, in a statement supporting Morris’ decision, “We can’t afford new fossil fuel infrastructure if we want to save the planet…If we are serious about halving emissions from fossil fuels in the next 10 years and avoiding climate catastrophe, we must drop any new tar sands pipelines, full stop.”

It is not surprising that left-leaning judges like Morris would take these kinds of arguments seriously. Afterall, after reviewing nearly 1000 pages of unsupportable studies of the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the future temperature of our planet the Supreme Court ruled on April 2, 2007 that GHG [including CO2] are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act and that EPA must determine whether GHG emissions “endanger public health or welfare.” The court concluded that the gas we exhale every minute, that very same gas that maintains vegetation on our planet that keeps us all alive is a contaminant.

Of course, the EPA did rule in its December 7, 2009 “Endangerment Finding” that GHG emissions “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”

The Trump administration can take the wind out of the sails of anti-fossil arguments, and give judges far less reason to block projects like Keystone XL in the future if they rescind the EPA’s GHG Endangerment Finding. Solid science supports such a move. The reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) summarize thousands of studies from peer-reviewed scientific journals that demonstrate that emissions of CO2 from human activities are not known to cause dangerous climate change.

To understand why so many experts do not support the climate scare, we need to review some basic science.

The temperature at the Earth’s surface and adjacent atmosphere where climate is experienced, is controlled by a balance between how much energy is received at the surface, primarily from the Sun, compared with how much energy leaves the planet and escapes into space. This energy is what drives differences in temperature and pressure that control the wind and circulation patterns of air and water. It is required to evaporate all the water that forms clouds, storm systems, and precipitation.

About 30% of incoming sunlight is reflected back into space by clouds, particles in the atmosphere, and the Earth’s surface itself, transferring no energy to the planet. Twenty percent of the incoming radiation is absorbed by the clouds. The remaining 50% is absorbed by the surface. Most of that energy is reradiated back into space in the form of heat, or infrared radiation, except for that temporarily absorbed by GHGs. These gases maintain a livable temperature on our planet but, an excess of GHGs, climate campaigners believe, will lead to catastrophic warming.

The most vilified GHG is carbon dioxide (CO2), as this benign gas is an unavoidable product of fossil fuel combustion. Activists seem to not know that human production of CO2 is less than 5% of that contributed by nature and, regardless, the primary GHG in our atmosphere is actually water vapor. A single water molecule absorbs over twice the heat of a CO2 molecule and there are 70 times as many water molecules in our atmosphere than CO2 molecules from all sources. Thus, atmospheric water absorbs 140 times (2 times 70) the heat of atmospheric CO2. Since water vapor varies hugely, from a trace to about 4% of the atmosphere, it dwarfs the impact of changes in CO2, which, at 0.04%, has negligible impact on our climate. Man caused climate change advocates do not want to talk about water for obvious reasons.

Speaking at the America First Energy Conference in Houston last November, Dr. Roger H. Bezdek, of Management Information Services, Inc., summed up the importance of fossil fuels: “They are the foundation of our current economy. They created (and sustained) the modern world. They permit the current high quality of life we all enjoy…. Artificially reducing fossil fuels would destroy world economies.”

Trump must take all steps necessary to ensure that this does not happen. It’s time to end the EPA’s Endangerment Finding against CO2, the elixir of life.


Dr. Jay Lehr is the Science Director of The Heartland Institute which is based in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition. Portions of this article have been excerpted with permission of the publisher and author of the 2018 book THE MYTHOLOGY OF GLOBAL WARMING by Bruce Bunker, Ph.D., Publisher: Moonshine Cove.

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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