Keystone Pipeline Supporters Invited Defeat

by | Jan 31, 2021 |

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The American governors, Canadian premiers, industry associations, and many of the rest who have spoken out in opposition to President Biden’s decision to kill the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline are apparently not really serious. Either that or they are hopelessly naive. For you never win a debate in politics, or any other field, if you fail to address your opponents’ main arguments effectively.

Before examining why pro-Keystone politicians’ and others’ arguments were inadequate and what they should have focused on instead, consider the following analogy.

Let’s say a politically-influential group fighting against the governments’ rollout of COVID-19 vaccines was saying that all vaccines are dangerous and we should instead be using New Age pyramid power to fight disease. Pyramid power is the belief that ancient Egyptian pyramids, and similarly-shaped objects, can give many benefits, including food preservation, improved health, and sharper razor blades. 

There is no reliable scientific evidence that pyramid power actually exists, and so far, at least, COVID-19 vaccines appear to be relatively safe. Yet, rather than make these sensible points, the government in our analogy responds that if you don’t take the government’s vaccines, they’ll be a strong black market for very high price drugs supplied by criminals. And besides, the government implores, “We are working hard on fully developing New Age pyramid power. So, let us distribute the drugs!”

Of course, that would be a ludicrous argument and would not convince anybody who is against vaccinations. The only argument that makes sense would be to demonstrate that the vaccines are safe (if indeed they are) and that pyramid power is a hoax, an utter fantasy. In other words, to effectively defeat those arguing against COVID-19 vaccines, the government would have to present valid arguments against the main points of the anti-vaxxers, not side issues. 

So, what is the main argument for Biden’s cancellation of Keystone XL? Let’s read what he actually said in his Executive Order (EO) that rescinded KXL’s permit on January 20. Here are some excerpts:

“That analysis [done in 2015 by the Obama administration], … stressed that the United States must prioritize the development of a clean energy economy… The analysis further concluded that approval of the proposed pipeline would undermine U.S. climate leadership by undercutting the credibility and influence of the United States in urging other countries to take ambitious climate action.”

Biden next puts his own spin on the reasons for KXL’s cancellation, continuing his EO as follows: 

“Climate change has had a growing effect on the U.S. economy, with climate-related costs increasing over the last 4 years. Extreme weather events and other climate-related effects have harmed the health, safety, and security of the American people and have increased the urgency for combatting climate change and accelerating the transition toward a clean energy economy. The world must be put on a sustainable climate pathway to protect Americans and the domestic economy from harmful climate impacts, and to create well-paying union jobs as part of the climate solution.”

To make absolutely sure no one misunderstands why he is canceling the pipeline, Joe’s EO included even more about the supposed climate threat:

“… The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs. Our domestic efforts must go hand in hand with U.S. diplomatic engagement. Because most greenhouse gas emissions originate beyond our borders, such engagement is more necessary and urgent than ever. The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”

There are no less than 15 references to “climate” in the above passages and 30 in total in the entire EO. Only the most dim-witted observer would not conclude that the KXL cancellation was all about the U.S. leading the world on ‘stopping climate change’ and converting to so-called clean energy sources such as wind and solar power. 

So, did governors, premiers, and industry associations strongly contest these points in their opposition to the new president’s decision? Not a chance; they brought up entirely different arguments. Here are examples from the governors of the three states KXL would have traversed:

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) focused (see here for a longer interview) on jobs lost, the idea that the oil is still going to come out of the ground and be transported into the U.S. by less safe, less environmentally friendly means or sent to other foreign customers if KXL was not built, and that Biden’s decision will make the U.S. more dependent on foreign sources.
  • Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) made similar arguments. See here and here, for example.
  • Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) raised points like this while emphasizing how pipelines were safer for the environment and people than alternative methods of getting Canadian crude to U.S. refineries.

These are all valid arguments, of course, but they miss the point. As the left-leaning CBC laid out in their January 23 article: “How political symbolism brought down Keystone XL,” 

A pipeline that became a referendum: …the economic arguments in favor of the pipeline could not overcome the profound symbolic value assigned to it by environmental groups and climate-focused voters. On its own, Keystone wouldn’t spell the difference between a green future and a “climate disaster.” But the pipeline became a referendum on the U.S. government’s commitment to combating climate change — a tangible thing on which American activists could focus their energies.”

Dr. James Hansen, for years a dedicated climate activist, explained, regarding the KXL cancellation:

“This decision is important. I’ve said that it’s ‘game over’ for the climate if we move from conventional fossil fuels into unconventional ones, which are even dirtier and more carbon-intensive. Terminating Keystone XL gives us a chance to avoid a big leap into that big mess. It’s stop-gap action.

“Pipelines are superior to other methods of moving oil – tankers, trains – but that’s the point. We must leave that sludge in the ground and retain the healthy forest above. Pipelines would let this tar sands travesty continue longer, with our young people paying the price.”

Some opponents of Biden’s KXL cancellation were so cowed by political-correctness that they even made public statements that indirectly supported the dangerous man-made climate change meme driving the decision and the nonsensical idea that renewables like wind and solar power are practical solutions to our energy needs. Here are some examples:

  • Premier Jason Kenny of Alberta, Canada, which has arguable the most to lose from KXL’s cancellation, boasted about how the province was focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Kenny’s Canadian Energy Centre (aka the Alberta Government’s ‘war room’) even said in their January 19 press release:

“Project owner TC Energy has committed that the pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska will have net-zero emissions on its first day of service and will be fully powered by renewables no later than 2030.”

“…The Canadian Chamber urges the incoming administration to not take such an action [canceling KXL], which would strain relations between our two countries and waste an opportunity to work together on a shared U.S. Canada strategy to fight climate change…

“To reject Keystone XL on the basis of its climate impacts would ignore the fact that it will be the first pipeline in North America that will achieve net-zero emissions from the very first day it enters service in 2023.

“Canadian oil products are subject to high environmental standards and a progressive carbon tax. They are produced by companies that have set aggressive targets for net-zero emissions. Keystone XL furthers the new U.S. administration’s climate action commitments by securing these products for the United States in place of oil from producers that do not adhere to those standards.”

  • Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), with House Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD), sent Biden a letter the day before the Inauguration pleading with him to not cancel KXL, writing: 

“…TC Energy has committed to operate Keystone XL with net-zero emissions, pledging to invest $1.7 billion to produce 1.6 gigawatts of renewable energy. This would rank TC Energy among the highest corporate backers of renewable energy purchases, directly supporting your agenda to bolster green energy investments in the U.S…”

“New advancements in technology mean that these pipelines are a low-carbon method of energy transportation and a critical part of delivering affordable energy while achieving our shared climate goals. Keystone XL would not only be constructed entirely by union labor, but it would be the first pipeline fully powered by renewable energy.”

  • The leaders of North America’s Building Trades Unions, International Union of Operating Engineers, National Association of Manufacturers, and United Association made similar points in an open letter to Biden on January 17 imploring him to retain the project. 

Happily, at least the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said nothing to support the climate scare and renewable energy myths in their statement opposing KXL cancellation.

So, rather than buy into, or ignore the climate scare and renewable energy myths that drove Biden’s decision, what should these groups have said? 

While voicing their valid concerns about job losses, costs, etc., they should have focused primarily on debunking Biden’s major arguments and his radical climate activist allies. They should have explained that many leading climate and other experts maintain that the climate scare is irrational and wind and solar power have no chance of ever satisfying more than a tiny fraction of our energy needs.

In other words, precisely what groups like the Arlington Heights, Illinois-based think tank, The Heartland Institute, has been saying for years in their publications and at their International Conferences on Climate Change, the 14th of which is scheduled for April. Indeed, pro-KXL politicians and associations should regularly cite Heartland’s Climate Change Reconsidered series of reports that summarize thousands of studies from peer-reviewed scientific journals that either refute or cast serious doubt on the climate scare and discuss the dangers of trying to replace fossil fuels with renewables.

For politicians too frightened of the climate mob to do this, there is a useful alternative approach. They should convene open, unbiased, well-publicized hearings into climate change science and energy engineering so that the experts can tell the public directly what is really going on in these fields. Then the governors, premiers, and others can say: 

‘Given the vast uncertainty in the climate science field as explained by the scientists, and the obvious inability of the wind and the Sun to power our society, we call on the president to stop pandering to radical climate crusaders. Instead, President Biden must protect the jobs of the thousands of fossil fuel and other conventional energy workers who we depend upon to keep our citizens from freezing in the dark. The only other rational government climate policy is to engage in sensible adaptation measures to prepare for whatever nature throws at us next.’

In his important book Rules for Radical Conservatives – beating the left at its own game to take back America (here is the Audible version of the book), David Kahane reminds us that:

“A good general knows never to fight a battle on his enemy’s turf, terrain, and terms unless he has no other choice.”

By accepting and, in some cases, even promoting the climate scare and the renewable energy delusion driving Biden’s Keystone XL pipeline cancellation, most conservatives have completely ignored this fundamental ‘rule’ in political debate. So, predictably, they lost KXL and will continue to lose on many fronts in the radical left’s ideological war against our prosperity and freedom. America and Canada deserve leaders with the courage and intelligence to fight this war to actually win.

Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris

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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Richard Bocking
Richard Bocking
2 years ago

With many climate crusaders it’s not really about the climate at all. “Saving the Climate” is often just a pretext for more power for the government.

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