State Department’s Keystone Eval: “Oh, Well, Since We’re Screwed Anyway…”

March 13, 2014

Party on, dudes…

Vancouver Observer:

US Secretary of State John Kerry claims “the United States is committed to doing its part” to fight the “clear and present danger” of the climate crisis.

But a high-profile, eleven-volume, multi-year study from his own department says to expect only rising carbon emissions and broken climate promises from America.

The only future this State Department study expects will occur is one in which:

  • America fails to meet President Obama’s Copenhagen Accord target
  • America emits even more CO2 in 2040 than it does today
  • American CO2 levels are consistent with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) scenario for +6C of global warming

The IEA says such a future would be a “catastrophe for all of us.” International Monetary Fund (IMF) director has stated bluntly that in a world that hot, “future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”

In other words, spectacular American failure. Game over.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, such a high-profile expectation of climate failure from Secretary Kerry’s own department is likely to “undermine the nation’s credibility” in its high-stakes international negotiations to prevent a full blown climate crisis.

Can Secretary Kerry convince other nations that America will cut climate pollution when his own State Department expects only failure?

What is the official expectation at State? Who is making these decisions?

I’ve tried for over a week to get some basic answers from the State Department about their study’s grim climate expectations. I’ve been told my questions were sent to the “technical staff” but so far no answers, and no response to my follow-up email.

Keystone XL and climate failure

The State Department’s study that expects abject American climate failure is their Keystone XL Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

The grim prognosis of broken climate promises and rising US emissions is hiding in plain sight in one of the most famous passages from the report — one that has been regularly quoted worldwide by politicians and major media. Here it is:

[Keystone XL] is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas (based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios).

Proponents of Keystone XL regularly quote the first part:

[Keystone XL] is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas

The bombshell about expected climate failure is in the second part:expected prices, costs and supply-demand scenario.

As my chart (below) shows, the State Department report doesn’t expect any future to unfold in which America comes anywhere close to meeting its climate goals. None.

The only futures scenarios that are “expected” to occur are ones in which American CO2 emissions are higher in 2040 than today, and still rising.

The State Department seems so sure of this higher-CO2 future that they didn’t bother to include even a single scenario with falling CO2 emissions. According to the study, this analysis was widely vetted: “The Department conducted this analysis, drawing on a wide variety of data and leveraging external expertise. The analysis reflects inputs from other U.S. government agencies and was reviewed through an interagency process.”

The State Department study fails to disclose that its conclusions are only valid in the context of total American and global climate failure. To appreciate how much this lack of transparency harms the public discourse, consider the key conclusion when the expected climate context is added (in bold):

In a future of dangerous climate change [Keystone XL] is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas.

As they say, context matters.

Is that what you really meant?!?

For example, consider some recent quotes by Keystone XL backers when the actual climate context gets included [in bold].

Republican Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said:

“The State Department, over the course of five years and five exhaustive reviews, has objectively determined that [in a future of dangerous climate change] the pipeline is better for safety, the environment and jobs”

A Chicago Times editorial is similar:

The U.S. State Department … found [that in a future ofdangerous climate change] the pipeline wouldn’t cause significant environmental damage. It wouldn’t prompt more oil extraction … The Obama administration should promptly approve Keystone XL — and boast about the environmental and economic pluses it will deliver [in a future of dangerous climate change].

The Denver Post wrote an editorial urging approval of the pipeline saying:

Those who oppose the project have exaggerated its potential impact on the environment … a State Department report in January concluded that [in a future of dangerous climate change] building the pipeline would not materially boost carbon emissions because the oil would find its way to market no matter what. … Maybe environmentalists should ponder that before joining the next anti-Keystone protest.

Yes, maybe environmentalists should consider that. In fact they have been. Repeatedly.

Informing the public

Unlike the State Department and most Keystone XL advocates, climate activists have done their homework and are trying to inform the decision makers and the general public.

Here are some recent examples:

Oil Change International writes:

While the State Department should have asked: “Will our efforts to meet climate objectives be hampered if we build Keystone XL?” the State Department’s report only manages: “In a future of inevitable catastrophic climate changes will Keystone XL make things significantly worse”?  That’s like asking on an already sinking Titanic if it would sink even faster with yet another hole in the hull.

The Sierra Club’s official comment to the SEIS says:

“The DSEIS also fails to assess tar sands projections in any scenarios that would give better than even odds of staying within the 2 degree limit … the failure to clarify the catastrophic climate context against which incremental emissions are considered cannot form the basis of a meaningful National Interest Determination.”

The NRDC wrote a formal comment to State, as Inside Climate Newsreports:

the EIS “makes a fundamental error by relying on energy consumption scenarios which assume a global failure to address climate change.” If the State Department stuck with its predictions … it would “undermine the nation’s credibility” during United Nations talks aimed at heading off the worst effects of global warming

And the UK’s Carbon Tracker Initiative published a report saying:

…future US CO2 emissions under all of the FSEIS scenarios fail to meet the official US target of reducing 2020 CO2 emissions 17% below 2005 levels (much less the more ambitious 2°C-relevant goal of reducing 2050 emissions 50% below 2005 levels).

Climate activists continue to insist — as they have all along — that approving Keystone XL is incompatible with America’s fight to prevent dangerous climate change.

As they rightly point out, the State Department failed to study the climate impact of Keystone XL in any scenario in which America meets its climate goals and the world avoids dangerous climate changes.

Bottom line: the State Department’s Keystone XL study expects only climate failure from Secretary Kerry, President Obama, America and the world.

So far nobody at the State Department — not even Secretary Kerry — has contradicted their study’s central expectation of broken American climate promises and rising US emissions.



72 Responses to “State Department’s Keystone Eval: “Oh, Well, Since We’re Screwed Anyway…””

  1. redskylite Says:

    Just to add my opinion, whatever the significance of xl pipeline contributions to overall GHG concentrations, measured against transport by slower and more risky methods, John Kerry has made a powerful speech to Indonesian students and promised action. If he approves the pipeline his speech will be just a charismatic speech without meaning and disillusion many a young foreign mind.

    Why does the decision need to take so long ?

    We have many weapons to wean ourselves off oil, just go for it now.

    • It takes a leap of faith and that is hard to do in a country that preaches dollars and technology are gods. My take? Things will work out and there will be impacts. Some will have to learn that the leap of faith is a necessity, not an option. Germany didn’t say maybe. It said lets go. Whats bothering you and me is seeing US take so long to put some vigor into it. And yes, the world notices our lack of moral fiber and it matters.

  2. Something about responsible leadership… “Oh well…”

  3. rayduray Says:

    Re: Why does the decision need to take so long ?

    Two scenarios come to mind.

    1) There will be rancor in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party when Obama approves the middle portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s possible the decision could be delayed until after the November elections. The Democrats will gain zero independent/GOP votes when Obama gives the go-ahead for the construction. But the Dems could face apathy/disgust among the base of the party’s voters and lose a few close elections due to low voter turnout if Obama continues to alienate his tribe.

    2) Alternately, Obama may use the Ukraine crisis as cover to justify the approval of the pipeline. Just this past week, the White House opened the spigot on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

    You can be sure this will be part of a marketing/propaganda effort with lots of goodies for the energy industries related to “national security”. This old scam is pulled out every decade or so it seems.

  4. cyhalothrin Says:

    Despite the widespread assumptions of many people, I don’t actually believe that the oil expected to flow through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is destined for export. The fact is that the USA still imports more than 50% of it’s oil, and the assumption that the country will eventually be “another Saudi Arabia” is hyperbole.

    Keystone XL is mainly about assuring that the USA has a continuous supply to feed its fleet of SUVs for the foreseeable future. The country will do anything to avoid building a reliable and convenient public transportation system, or construct walkable cities. But hey, you are welcome to help save the planet buy purchasing energy-saving lightbulbs and a handbag made of organic (imported from China) hemp cloth.

    Obama, Kerry, the Demigod and the Repugnant parties – they all work for the same masters (Cock Brothers, ExCon-Mobile, etc). The USA has the best government that money can buy.

    “We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.”
    – Kurt Vonnegut

    • The imports are coming from Canada and Mexico. And they are now very expensive to create. Thats why they are going overseas the minute they can make the pipeline. They are already too expensive to generate more demand in the US. Driving and gas consumption are flat or falling. Thats evidence that a new supply has not increased demand. The pipeline terminates in New Orleans not Chicago. The same company had a pipeline to BC as its first choice and it was not to supply all the SUVs in BC. We are now in a supply, not demand economy. So the supply must move the product to China. Price elasticity is limited on the down side by the high cost of supply.

    • The country will do anything to avoid building a reliable and convenient public transportation system, or construct walkable cities.

      New cities cost a lot more than new pipelines, and the political problem of policing the criminal element well enough to keep cities safe for walking is far more difficult than just letting people drive cars.  There are mob attacks on shoppers on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and the political system is unable to mobilize police resources to stop them.  Demanding that people move in from the suburbs and give up their cars is not going to happen in that environment.

    • rayduray Says:

      Re: I don’t actually believe that the oil expected to flow through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is destined for export.

      Possibly not, due to Jones Act and other restrictions. However, what you will see is a dramatic increase in the export of refinery products.


      “Research has shown that the pipeline’s major purpose is not to provide oil for the U.S. but to serve as an export pipeline fueling international markets. New data reveals that a full 60 percent of gasoline produced in 2012 at the Texas Gulf Coast refineries was exported. These are the refineries that would process the majority of the tar sands bitumen flowing through the Keystone XLpipeline, if it were built.”

      Source: Price of Oil website —

      • In other words, they will get around any restrictions and export it anyway.

      • This is not a surprise.  Venezuela, for one, lacks the refining capacity to meet its own demand.  It exports crude to the USA and buys gasoline back.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Apples and oranges, E-Pot, and unrelated to what Chris is saying. The U.S. imports substantial amounts of gasoline, and Saudi Arabia imports gasoline at times. Venezuela has had disastrous refinery fires and has not been maintaining its oil infrastructure adequately, to say nothing of its insane gasoline subsidy situation.

          All irrelevant. Tar sands oil is plain and simple meant mainly for export and filling the pockets of the Koch brothers and the Canadian plutocracy with $$$ at the expense of the greater good..

          • The USA has long exchanged American diesel for European gasoline, instead of trying to turn similar feedstocks into very different product mixes on the opposite sides of the Atlantic.  The diesel-heavy European auto mix and the US’s almost exclusively gasoline fleet make that the cheapest way to handle the issue.  That’s been going on for decades.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            All true, and IMO the issue still remains that 1) the tar sands “oil” should be left in the ground and not transported anywhere, and 2) if it is extracted, transported, and refined anywhere, it is STILL mainly going overseas, enriching the plutocracy, and hurting efforts to control CO2.

          • Well, sure, absolutely leave it in the ground.

            But to do that, you need to cut world oil DEMAND below the non-tar-sands SUPPLY, else prices will rise high enough to make tar sands economic.

            To do THAT, you need a substitute… and that substitute has to be carbon-free, or it becomes just as big a problem.

            Solutions offered today:  Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, any Ford Energi model, and Westinghouse for power.

    • You need to explain why the oil producers are currently lobbying to do just that.
      And why US refineries are exporting more oil than ever.

  5. “Can Secretary Kerry convince other nations that America will cut climate pollution when his own State Department expects only failure?”

    Can Secretary Kerry expect other nations to cut carbon if US not prepared to?

  6. redskylite Says:

    Another Firm That Evaluated Keystone For State Department Had Ties To TransCanada

  7. adelady Says:

    EIA projections assume…
    -PV Solar installations stop in 2016 and do not resume for 12 years and even then at a rate significantly below current rates.
    -No thermal solar is constructed past 2014.
    -Construction of wind farms ceases in 2016 and does not resume for almost 20 years.

    If I were tutoring these people as high school students I’d be having a long hard look at their reading comprehension skills.

    I could – just – understand this if they’d taken every single report and projection and misread ‘growth in this sector will stop at the present rate at a certain time’ for ‘this sector will stop ….’. But to get it so wrong for every single one of the best known, most successful, steadily price decreasing technologies is beyond belief.

    They’re quite entitled to argue that some avid proponents of some technologies and predicted improvements have overstated their reach and their price advantages and to suggest more restrained or “reasonable” numbers. But what you’ve written here is like some Monty Python script – as though they’ve deliberately disconnected from reality.

    I’m almost inclined to think you might have got it wrong somehow. But I’ve been disappointed in such wishful thinking before.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Ya gotta wonder how many people in government entities that keep making these ridiculous reports and conclusions were given their jobs by the Bush administration.

      Obama should have – on his first day in office – fired everyone hired by George Bush. That’s part of my theory of why Obama has been such a disappointment.

      • rayduray Says:

        Re: Obama should have – on his first day in office – fired everyone hired by George Bush. That’s part of my theory of why Obama has been such a disappointment.

        Let’s pull this apart, shall we? Barack Obama has been no disappointment whatsoever to Wall Street banksters, irregardless of the kabuki they both play indicating mutual displeasure. That’s all just for public propaganda purposes. Obama has been no disappointment whatsoever to the oil patch. He’s been no disappointment to Big pHarma. Are you beginning to see the pattern here?

        Barack Obama’s hands were tied when he took office. Not only did he not want to fire Bush political appointees, he simply accepted the fact that Dick Cheney spent much of 2008 converting GOP neo-con friendly appointees into civil service status protected employees. Largely, Obama couldn’t have fired the right wing creeps because Cheney had very cleverly manipulated the system to protect his entourage ensconced across the bureaucracy.

        Victoria Nuland is a prima facie example of this rigging. She’s a lunatic neo-con, but she’s been pandered to and catered to by both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at State.

        This is good. Here’s Nuland explaining that the U.S. is really committed to the violent and illegal coup d’etat just perpetrated in Ukraine: Nuland frankly admits that the U.S. has spent $5 Billion attempting to destabilize Ukraine since before the Soviet Union broke up. Why? Well the Chevron logo is prominently on display behind Nuland and it is because of the pride Chevron takes at pioneering and profiting from oil & gas fracking in Ukraine. And as you’ll recall, Bush’s National Security Adviser and Secretary of State was none other than Chevron Board of Directors’ member Condoleeza Rice.

        Small world, eh? And neither of us are in it.

    • One wonders if it was actually a mistake. It seems too gross not to be accidental. Are the parties generating the information from the affected industries?

    • Peter promised a report on the EIA erroneous projections. I kind of stole some thunder, but hey, people listen to Peters reports and they make a much bigger splash. Maybe this is the advertising posters for the movie. There are some other good references I posted previously that show how many times the EIA has changed their projections since 2000. And every time they return to a nearly flat projection for that energy source. It seems far beyond credibility that those were merely mistakes. Lately, we are seeing some change in those kinds of things coming out of EIA. It all has the whiff of permanent staff with an oil industry bent from previous years. The letter to Sec. Moniz may have had an impact. See, activism does help. 🙂

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