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Back to square one for Keystone XL decision as major error uncovered in State Dept report

Note: A version of this chart and an article discussing the implications were first published by Oil Change International.

Is approving Keystone XL compatible with America's climate goals? Amazingly the latest US State Dept report didn't bother to find out.

In a few months, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US President Obama will have to make the high-stakes decision whether to reject or approve the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Secretary Kerry and President Obama have repeatedly said that meeting America's climate goals and working to limit global warming to less than +2oC are top priorities for them.

As a result, President Obama has explicitly stated that the climate impact of Keystone XL will be a critical factor in his decision.

So just how big a climate impact would Keystone XL have?

To supply an answer to Secretary Kerry and President Obama, the State Department spent years assembling a massive Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the pipeline.

Shockingly, however, the FEIS never bothered to evaluate the climate impact of Keystone XL in any context in which America meets the President's own climate goals.

Instead, every future energy scenario the State Department chose to evaluate Keystone XL under leads to CO2 emissions consistent with unmitigated climate disaster. Take a look.

As my chart above shows, in every FEIS energy scenario:

  • America fails to meet its climate goals
  • America's CO2 emissions are even higher in 2040 than now and still rising with no peak in sight
  • America's CO2 matches the +6oC global warming "catastrophe" scenario of the International Energy Agency

In other words, the State Department's FEIS only tries to answer the question: "In future of catastrophic climate changes will Keystone XL make things significantly worse?"  Seriously, who friggin' cares? It's like doing a two year mega-study on whether the already sinking Titanic would sink even faster if you punch yet another hole in the hull.

In a speech last year, Secretary Kerry called the climate threat a "clear and present danger … The science is screaming at all of us and demands action."

And last weekend, in a major speech in Indonesia, he called climate change "perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction" that poses "the greatest challenge of our generation."

Somehow I don't think Secretary Kerry is going to be very happy with his department's complete failure to study Keystone XL in the context of any safe climate future.

But the fact is they didn't.

Climate activists have insisted all along that approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is incompatible with America's efforts to ensure a safe climate future. Are they right?

Amazingly the State Department's FEIS didn't bother to find out. Without such a rigorous analysis the FEIS can't be used by President Obama -- or anyone else -- to determine whether approving Keystone XL is compatible with efforts to avoid dangerous climate changes.

Looks like it is back to square one on the high-stakes issue of Keystone XL's climate impact.

Creating my chart: a detective story

After two days reading and re-reading the FEIS I realized I couldn't find the information I needed to understand Keystone XL's impact on America's climate goals. So I went searching. Here is what I found.

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