June 17 2013
President Obama may have found a backdoor way to kill the Keystone XL pipeline that lets him have it both ways.
Buried in a little-noticed rule on microwave ovens is a change in the U.S. government’s accounting for carbon emissions that could have wide-ranging implications for everything from power plants to the Keystone XL pipeline.
The increase of the so-called social cost of carbon, to $38 a metric ton in 2015 from $23.80, adjusts the calculation the government uses to weigh costs and benefits of proposed regulations. The figure is meant to approximate losses from global warming such as flood damage and diminished crops.
With the change, government actions that lead to cuts in emissions -- anything from new mileage standards to clean-energy loans -- will appear more valuable in its cost-benefit analyses. On the flip side, environmentalists urge that it be used to judge projects that could lead to more carbon pollution, such as TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone pipeline or coal-mining by companies such as Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU) on public lands, which would be viewed as more costly.
That the rule was slipped in without opening for it up for public debate strikes even supporters as questionable, Bloomberg reports. There is also no way of knowing if this rule is even a good idea, the sort of thing that might have been hashed out in public hearings. A supporter is quoted saying that it “won’t be a game changer, but it would help.”
Steven Haywad writes on Powerline:
Combine this with stories, such as this one from Politico, that say Obama is getting ready to roll out some strong executive-based climate policies in July, and you can begin to connect the dots here. Obama will be able to “approve” Keystone subject to further cost-benefit review, which will subsequently kill the project on cost-benefit grounds, or will impose such onerous “mitigation” costs on TransCanada that they have to withdraw their application. Obama will be able to say he “let the process” go forward.
President Obama, as Heyward notes, knew he couldn’t vote “present” forever on the Keystone pipeline. He didn’t dare offend the unions (for Keystone) or the rich, leisure class environmentalists (against obviously), two cornerstones of his support. This is a way to kill Keystone after approving it—wink, wink.
Robert Redford, Yoko Ono and other Keystone adversaries will be pleased, and they’ll understand the president’s subterfuge.
Keystone could create jobs, be a boost to the economy, and bring us energy from a (still) friendly country, but the people who care about these economic matters are just strong enough to make the president fear taking the other side—but not strong enough to prevent the Obama administration from employing this subterfuge. The pipeline had enormous economic potential but the president hearts the kind of rich environmentalists he meets at San Francisco fundraisers.