If approved, how will the proposed Keystone XL pipeline affect the environment and economy? During today's OnPoint, Danielle Droitsch, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Canada Project, reacts to the growing bipartisan support in Congress for TransCanada's pipeline proposal and discusses why she believes the pipeline would have devastating environmental impacts. This interview was filmed before the release of the State Department's draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Danielle Droitsh, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Canada Project. Danielle, thanks for coming on the show.
Danielle Droitsh: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Danielle, a bipartisan group of 20 senators recently sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on him to support the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the letter focuses on the economic benefits of the pipeline, and also the positive impacts that the pipeline could have on our relations with Canada. Are you surprised by the growing support that we're seeing in Congress for the Keystone Pipeline?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, the focus on the pipeline has been historically about this issue of energy security, but what we've really started to focus on is the fact that this pipeline actually isn't consistent with U.S. climate policy. It's not consistent with where President Obama wants to go on climate. And so there is actually a growing movement of people that are saying, we can't go down the path of approving this pipeline, because it has significant climate impacts.
Monica Trauzzi: Are you seeing that growing movement within Congress, or is this just outside of Congress?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, it's within Congress and outside Congress. There's, the thing is that we have to get to the science. We have to have the right facts of the science about this pipeline. Right now, the State Department's historic position has been that this pipeline does not increase greenhouse gas emissions, but in fact the evidence is now coming out very clearly, since, it's been almost two years since the last environmental review for this pipeline -- that we now can -- we know that this pipeline actually will significantly increase climate emissions. And if you look at the fact that President Obama in in his inaugural address, in his State of the Union address, has said we're going to now, as part of his second term, really tackle climate change, and this decision is actually going to be inconsistent with tackling climate.
Monica Trauzzi: So TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, would disagree with your assessment on the climate impacts. They've said that even if production from the oil sands were to double, the greenhouse gas contribution from the oil sands would be immaterial in comparison to global levels. So why such a big fight over emissions if it's what they're suggesting, just a drop in the bucket?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, all we have to do is look at the last two years and look at the evidence on the ground. TransCanada isn't telling the truth, basically. What we know is that in the last two years since Keystone has been delayed, that industries actually revised their production, their prognosis for how much production is going to happen by, lessening it by 2 million barrels a day. So we know that not moving ahead with Keystone is actually going to reduce production of tar sands. Tar sands is far more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional oil, by a significant margin. We know that Keystone is going to drive up tar sands expansion. Industry, the Canadian government, acknowledges this. This is not any secret. We also know that Keystone will actually increase oil prices, Canadian oil prices, and that actually sends a price signal back up to the tar sands production to enable them to expand. So all of this information has been developing in the past couple of years, and this is the new information the State Department needs to take into consideration when they do their next environmental review.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, but if the U.S. doesn't approve the pipeline, then the oil will arguably go somewhere else, and very likely to a country that does not have as strict environmental standards as we do here in the United States. So doesn't it make sense for us to control the product, to have full control over it?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, that's the myth. The myth is that somehow the Alberta tar sands industry will be able to get its product out of landlocked Alberta, and what we know, again, from just looking at the last couple of years, is they are not able to do it. They are not able to get the pipelines out to the West Coast, which has been stopped by Canadians, have been stopped by regulatory hurdles. They're actually, right now, there is a glut of tar sands in Alberta that is getting stuck, and they're not able to get it out. And industry and financial analysts have basically said if Keystone doesn't move ahead, we can't expand production. That means the climate emissions will also not happen. So there's a myth that production is going to somehow go to Asian or other markets. That's not happening.
Monica Trauzzi: Ottawa considers approval of this pipeline vital to Canada's economic future, so if it doesn't get approved, what do you think will happen to Canada in terms of their economy?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, the tar sands production in Canada is significant to Alberta. To Canada, it's about five percent of their gross domestic product. The actual number of jobs has been overblown. It is a significant industry, but it's not, there are many other cornerstones to the Canadian economy, manufacturing, agriculture, and really, what's happening in Canada is there is a laser focus on the oil industry. There has been many, many opportunities to expand and look at clean energy economy opportunities that are being missed. And so, you know, that's unfortunate. It's not something that you know, that NRDC is spending a lot of time on, but really, in both countries, both the United States and Canada can do tremendous amounts to refocus our economies not on producing more and more oil, and particularly the carbon intensive oil like tar sands, but actually shifting to a low carbon economy.
Monica Trauzzi: So TransCanada rerouted the pipeline to address some environmental concerns that groups like yours and other environmental groups had posed, specifically the route that went through Nebraska. It's now been rerouted. The Nebraska state legislature and also the governor there have approved that rerouted pipeline, the revised route. Why isn't approval of that revised route sufficient for you guys?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, two things. One is that the revised route actually still goes through critical groundwater resources. I mean, the reality is that they ...
Monica Trauzzi: But why was it approved, then?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, the government of Nebraska certainly went through a process, but they didn't listen to the scientists who basically were saying that it still is going through a critical water resources area. It still goes through the very area that was of concern in the first place. So Nebraskans, farmers, ranchers, are still saying this is not a routing that's a good idea for Nebraska. But it, there's also the bigger issue around climate. This pipeline, regardless of where it is routed, it is a pipeline, first of all, through America, not to America. This is an export pipeline. It's not going to benefit U.S. energy security. And it has significant climate impacts. And so we have to basically, looking at this pipeline and saying, if it's going to basically bring on carbon emissions that are equivalent to six million new cars to the road, and that's an under, that's a low estimate, because that's not even counting all the carbon emissions, then, you know, is that really consistent with a country that is going to be making a new focus on fighting climate change? We say it's not.
Monica Trauzzi: But regardless, we would have positive economic impacts from the pipeline, so are those economic impacts less important than the environmental impacts that you're suggesting?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, the economic impacts of the pipeline have been overblown significantly. Meanwhile, in the United States we are facing multibillion climate change disasters. And last year, we had over $11 billion climate disasters. The year before that, we had $14 billion climate disasters. If we're going to get serious about addressing climate change, we're going to have to at home look at making massive reductions, and we're also going to have to look at our source of oil, our largest source of imported oil from Canada, and the type of oil that we're starting to bring in more and more from Canada is some of the most carbon intensive on earth. So if we are serious about tackling this economic problem that we have with climate change, then we're going to have to say no to Keystone.
Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. In a recent interview with Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry, he told me that he was a bit surprised by the power of the environmental lobby in being able to delay the pipeline for as long as it has been delayed. Early on in the debate over Keystone, though, the environmental community was criticized for not sort of having a cohesive argument on the pipeline. So what changed? What did you decide to do differently in order to get to where you are now?
Danielle Droitsh: Well, what I think is happened is actually there has been a growing movement. There has been more and more people, this started off with a small group of people who woke up and said, hey, there's a pipeline in my backyard. And we talked about pipeline safety issues, which are still there. And then we learned more and more and more, and more people became familiar. And now we realize that this pipeline is not good for climate, it's not good for the environment, it's not good for the economy, it's not good for energy security, and you have many, many voices that are now saying no matter how you look at this pipeline, it is actually not in America's interest, and we need to turn it down.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Danielle Droitsh: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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