This morning, a group of national and regional environmental organizations sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to be thorough in its review process of the proposed AlbertaClipper expansion by evaluating the cumulative climate impacts of this project along with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and other foreseeable tar sands pipeline proposals.
The Alberta Clipper pipeline currently carries 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of tar sands oil through Minnesota, and the proposed expansion would double its capacity to a total of 880,000 bpd, an amount comparable to the tar sands carrying capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The group, which included Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, Clean Up The River Environment, Energy Action Coalition, FLOW, Freshwater Future, Friends of the Headwaters, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Michigan Land Use Institute, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and local and national chapters of350.org and Sierra Club, urged the State Department to recognize the importance of evaluating the cumulative impact of these and other tar sands projects as part of any effort to make meaningful policy combatting climate change. “As you are well aware, climate change is one of the most pressing problems facing the health of our planet. You and the President have both recognized the importance of addressing climate change, and the President has made tackling carbon pollution a top priority,” they wrote. “...Tar sands are a landlocked resource that are at least 17% more carbon intensive than conventional oil on a life cycle basis. Pipelines are the lynchpin for massive tar sands expansion the climate cannot afford if we are to preserve a stable climate for future generations.”
They continued, “The administration’s commitment to aggressive greenhouse gas reduction policies simply cannot be squared with a piecemeal approach to tar sands infrastructure permitting. The Department can only understand the true climate impacts of these pipelines by analyzing their cumulative growth-inducing effect on tar sands development.”
This sentiment is shared by a growing coalition of experts, including a group of economists, policy researchers, ecologists, and decision scientists who recently made the case in a joint piece in Naturemagazine that the way the government currently evaluates tar sands projects like Keystone and AlbertaClipper is fundamentally flawed and misleading because looking at each project in isolation downplays their significance and contribution to climate change. They argued that a moratorium on new or expanded tar sands projects in North America is necessary until a “more coherent approach” can be developed to evaluate them.
As the chorus of experts calling for a cumulative approach to evaluating tar sands projects grows louder, it is clear that if President Obama and Secretary Kerry are serious about listening to the science in making decisions on tar sands projects like Keystone XL and the Alberta Clipper expansion, they must evaluate these projects together and in the context of a national energy policy.