Will the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline be based on politics or science? During today's OnPoint, Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States, reacts to the State Department's final environmental impact statement on the pipeline and explains why he believes the pipeline will ultimately be approved. He also talks about the politics that are at play as the Obama administration considers the project's future.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ambassador Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
Ambassador Gary Doer: Great to be here, Monica. Appreciate it.
Monica Trauzzi: Mr. Ambassador, last Friday the U.S. State Department released its final environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline project, no dramatic changes from the draft we had discussed almost a year ago. Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird has said it's time for the administration to make a decision even if the answer is no. What's your reaction? What's your take on the state of play right now on this pipeline decision?
Gary Doer: Well, we actually think there was a dramatic change from March respectfully, and it wasn't in the media narrative and it wasn't in the report. But if you look at the March report it had an 8 percent difference of transporting oil on rail as opposed to pipelines. And this report goes and takes it even further because there's been much more oil on rail since the pipeline was delayed and says it's between 28 and 42 percent higher GHGs. So that we think is dramatic. It doesn't, I think the headline was no impact, no significant impact. So we think, coming to your question about where Canada's at, we think the choice now is actually if the president says yes, it's actually less GHGs. It's not even comparable, because it will be going on pipeline versus rail. And if he says no the greenhouse gases will go up because the oil is coming down on rail. So we think it's pretty much on the facts, not the noise, but on the facts we think it's very positive to approve this pipeline.
Monica Trauzzi: So following the release of the report on Friday, describe the level of engagement between the two governments. I mean, have there been discussions on the highest levels?
Gary Doer: Well, there's a law in Washington, and this is a very litigious town. I mean, there's more lawyers here per capita than anywhere else in the world I think. And so we know and Canada respects that the law for determining the national interest is going to be followed by the administration, and it's going to be followed and respected by Canada. So we're having the public commentary period of 30 days, and then we have another period of time overlapping as the agency comments up to 90. So we think there's a way to get this going if the administration agrees to get the construction season in play, so that's why this week we met with a number of labor unions, building trade unions. If it's going to go ahead, let's get it going ahead during this next construction season.
Monica Trauzzi: But how concerned are you that during that 90-day period a U.S. agency could step in and challenge the national interest determination?
Gary Doer: Well, the State Department is the lead department. Even the narrative about what the EPA said last year, the deputy administrator of the EPA said in committee that we gave the report of the State Department in March a C. According to the State Department, not Kerri-Ann Jones, but people that just worked there, they said they've never got an A in their life; maybe it's a tough marker. So we think there'll be lots of input, but it's not as if, this is not the first report that's been conducted. The only thing that's new in this report is the rise of oil, crude oil on rail. And the only thing new on this report is updating the demand statistics from the Energy Department, so those will already be contained. Yes, the United States needs oil, is developing more oil domestically, but does still require oil from, we would argue, a friendly source.
Monica Trauzzi: Right. And Canada's energy counselor Paul Connors recently suggested that the U.S.'s own shale oil production might make the Keystone Pipeline Project less relevant. Is that how you see it as well?
Gary Doer: Well, he wrote about 100 emails and I think one of them was leaked, was released by interested people in ...
Monica Trauzzi: But that's a pretty significant thing to say.
Gary Doer: But he said a lot of other things. He also said in a number of different communications that it's higher GHGs on rail, higher cost and higher risk. And all of those things that he has said that we believe are going to be part of the decision are even more dramatic in the facts that are in the report.
Monica Trauzzi: Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu was quoted this week saying, "The decision on whether the construction should happen was a political one and not a scientific one," during his time in the administration. Have you personally seen or heard anything from this administration that would suggest that this is about politics?
Gary Doer: Well, I recall Secretary Chu when he was still in the office saying that he thought it was, after the former State Department report came on in August of 2011 and before the delay in Nebraska, said he thought it made more sense for the United States to get its energy from a friendly neighbor than from the Middle East. Well, he may not have said Middle East, I don't want to incorrectly quote him. But a friendly neighbor, a reliable neighbor. And so he says it's politics. You know, this is a very political town, but we prefer the decision to be made on science. And the report therefore, even though the integrity of the report has been attacked by people opposed to the pipeline, it's so clear. It's going to, it's being developed, it's on rail, and rail has higher cost, higher GHGs and higher risk. I mean, it's not that complicated when it comes down to it, both from a political point of view and from a scientific point of view.
Monica Trauzzi: But in terms of timing on the decision, there are political calculations that could be made right now as we head towards the 2014 elections here in the United States. Are you concerned at all that the decision may be pushed past those elections so that there's no inference?
Gary Doer: You know, when I was, you know, I certainly wasn't at the level of the president, but when I was the head of a government and I got debates from the left and the right and business and labor and, you know, everybody who was involved in it, and I had a recommendation in front of me that had, you know, on safety, that talked about the safety of the two options, I always went with the safest option. The reason for that was two days or three days after the decision is announced everybody will move on to another issue. But six months from now, a year from now, if you have chosen the unsafe option, you'd better be prepared to live with the consequences. And I think people always in a position of authority choose safety over politics.
Monica Trauzzi: I think we'll be hearing about this decision even six months after it's made ...
Gary Doer: Do you? You know ...
Monica Trauzzi: Whether it's a yes or no, I do. [Laughter]
Gary Doer: I think we're going to, you know what? I think Canada and the United States is going to get on with dealing with a huge environmental issue called water stewardship in North America, and I think a couple years from now we'll be into some stuff that we really should be talking about instead of going from 75 to 76 pipelines in energy between our two countries. We'll be talking about things that we've really got to wrap our heads around.
Monica Trauzzi: Another question on politics.
Gary Doer: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: You've recently been engaging with members of Congress who support the pipeline.
Gary Doer: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: Would you then be in favor of or have you been lobbying for some kind of policy vehicle that would bypass the president on the Keystone decision?
Gary Doer: We respect the presidential authority and the State Department authority. Are there people that want this to pass in the House and in the Senate? Yes. Do we want, if there's a vote in the Senate or in the House, do we want it to be positive? Yes. There have been I think two or three votes before in the House of Representatives. There's two or three votes in the Senate that have all been positive. But boy, you know, we're being very careful. As I say, we respect the legal process in the United States. The one thing about the United States is there is different levels of government, and we deal with that all the time: border staffing and budgets. We're dealing with it now on the Detroit-Windsor Bridge. So we try to work with like-minded people. But we're working on all kinds of issues. This is not the only, I mean, it's getting most of the media attention, but we're not a one-trick pony.
Monica Trauzzi: Secretary Kerry has a strong Senate record on climate action. Could that ultimately be a deciding factor on the pipeline?
Gary Doer: Well, I hope it is, because higher GHGs on rail would indicate that he would go with the, he would choose pipelines over rail. I've got a good record on the environment when I was premier. I always chose pipelines over rail. I think rail's got a place in energy. You know, it's getting safer; it's getting more reliable. But if you can send 800,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota, Montana and Canada, don't forget, it is oil from the United States as well; I always say you've got to choose Middle America over the Middle East, and it has less GHGs on pipelines than rail, then I think Secretary Kerry will be meeting his own criteria. And the president, who has stated that he will be making this decision at Georgetown University, after he said we had to deal with the Sandhills portion of the aquifer in Nebraska, and that's dealt with, he said that it won't exacerbate the climate change significantly, I've got to pronounce that right. And this report says if you go with no, you go with increased GHGs.
Monica Trauzzi: Tell me what Plan B looks like if it is a no.
Gary Doer: We're going to get a yes. Rail versus pipelines. It'll be all kinds of noise, but at the end of the day rail is higher cost, higher risk, higher GHGs, one, two, three, yes.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, Mr. Ambassador. We'll end it right there.
Gary Doer: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Gary Doer: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.