WASHINGTON – The US Government just released the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment. As you can imagine, the emphasis is on mostly negative, man-made changes to the climate and therefore to the environment. Things are not looking good, according to the report. That said, the good news is that, by limiting certain human activities, especially concerning the use of fossil fuels, we can improve our outlook.
Is regulation the best tool?
Assuming that the report is correct, it is not entirely clear to me that regulatory actions aimed at restricting the use of fossil fuels will be able to reverse whatever damage has already been inflicted on the environment.
I know that this is a difficult and divisive subject. Still, many scientists who do not deny the reality of man-made climate change believe that it is a lot more cost-effective to invest scarce resources in actions aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change rather than trying to reverse it by curbing the use of this or that. Anyway, this is a truly complicated subject that cannot be addressed in just a few words.
Forget about the Keystone pipeline
Still, on a more practical level, one of the most immediate (politically motivated) policy consequences of this report is that we may as well forget about any decision on the already controversial Keystone pipeline that could carry almost 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil a day from Alberta down to Texas refineries.
This project has already been demonized by all the US environmentalists as something that would trigger a real catastrophe. It has been said that buying and then refining this Canadian heavy oil is basically a criminal act, as this is oil is a super pollutant that will damage the air, the atmosphere and everybody coming in contact with it.
It all about politics
Well, let’s say that this is at least an exaggeration. But this belief is firmly held by lots of Democrats. And Obama does not want to offend them (there is a national election coming up in November) by authorizing the project.
Sure enough, if we were thinking strategically, if we were thinking US energy security, it would make a lot of sense to increase US oil imports from Canada, a stable and dependable ally, as opposed to buying the same oil from OPEC countries. This is obvious.
But Obama cannot talk energy security with the environmentalists in his own party. And so he has tried to be clever by creating an endless project review process that allows him to delay a decision without openly offending anybody.
Some Democrats may suffer
True enough, there are some Democrats, mostly Senators running for re-election, who may suffer politically because of this, since their centrist constituents are actually in favor of the Keystone pipeline. But the White House is not inclined to approve such a controversial project just a few months before the November mid-term elections.
Still, for anybody who might have harbored any residual hope regarding approval of the Keystone pipeline, the just released National Climate Assessment report should put the issue to rest.
The report says that carbon is bad
Now we have heard it from higher authority: carbon based energy is bad. We should use less, not more. Never mind that the issue at stake here is not consuming more oil but decreasing our dependence on OPEC oil. As we have to import almost half the oil we consume anyway, it would be wiser to buy it from a friend close by, rather than from the Persian Gulf.
Regarding the pipeline, the real issue is energy security
And yes, Canadian heavy oil may indeed pollute more, but I do not believe that using more of it will make such a big difference, if we take into account global emissions of greenhouse gases dominated by thousands of super dirty Chinese and Indian coal-fired power plants that the US environmentalists cannot close down.