State Dept. Pollution Pipeline Undermines Obama’s Climate Goals

According to a report in today’s Washington Post, the U.S. State Department has approved the construction of a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Canadian oil sands to refineries in the United States. The State Department-approved “Alberta pollution pipeline” will not just move fuel, but it will move one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet — tar sands oil.


Turning tar sands into oil requires massive amounts of energy and results in as much as 3 times as much greenhouse gas emissions to produce as conventional oil, studies show.  The full lifecycle emissions from the tar sands oil from this Alberta Pollution Pipeline (including production and tailpipe emissions) could be more than three billion tons of heat-trapping gases pumped into the atmosphere (yes, that is “billion” with a “B,” not a typo) through the year 2050.

Meanwhile, President Obama has called for the U.S. and other developed nations, including Canada, to cut emissions by more than 80% during this same time period. Building this pipeline while trying to shift to cleaner energy sources is like going on a diet while buying a lifetime supply of Twinkies.

A better solution for our oil dependency is for the Senate to act swiftly to pass a clean energy and climate bill such as the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act approved by the House in June. The bill creates incentives for homegrown renewable energy technologies like wind and solar and electric vehicles and will create millions of jobs in the process.

A recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows ACES would reduce oil imports by 590,000 barrels per day by 2020 — more than we will get from this pipeline project, and as much oil as we currently import from Iraq. ACES will save $650 billion from being spent on foreign oil over the next 20 years. Among many oil saving measures, ACES includes a strong investment in battery technologies and a smarter grid that can help get renewable energy sources like solar and wind to our homes to charge up our automobiles with electricity.

According to the State Department’s position on greenhouse gases from the “Alberta Clipper” line, “The administration believes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies and a strong international agreement.” President Obama and the State Department deserve credit for actively pursuing this global agreement as well as domestic clean energy legislation. All the more reason to avoid locking in highly polluting energy infrastructure like this pipeline that will make little economic sense when we commit to homegrown renewable energy sources and put a price on carbon pollution.  

The State Department decision threatens to get the Obama administration off course on its winning energy strategy to simultaneously deal with three inter-related opportunities at the same time:  limit carbon pollution in order to promote clean energy and clean energy jobs, increase energy security, and protect our planet. To date, these efforts have gotten high marks from the public. A recent Zogby poll found that 71% of likely voters support the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

The National Wildlife Federation will continue to work to support the President’s and Congress’ efforts to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and to fight dirty fuels like the ones supported by this pipeline that undermine a cleaner energy future.  

Published: August 21, 2009