PRESIDENT OBAMA began his second term with a promise to push harder on energy and climate change. The events of the past week remind us that he won’t have to contend just with Republicans and coal-state Democrats determined to oppose reasonable measures to combat global warming. He will also have to sidestep environmentalists demanding that he fight the wrong battles.
Last Friday, the State Department released a new draft analysis of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, opposition to which has become a counterproductive obsession of many in the environmental movement. In its 2,000 pages, the report dismantled the case that nixing the Canadian pipeline must be a priority for anyone concerned about climate change, explaining anew that accepting or rejecting the project won’t make much difference to global emissions, U.S. oil consumption or world oil markets.
Under anti-Keystone activists’ very best scenario — Keystone XL and all other new pipeline capacity restricted — they could hope to reduce Canadian oil-sands production by only 2 to 4 percent by 2030. As long as the world demands oil, energy companies will find it profitable to extract and transport their product in all sorts of ways. If new pipelines are out of the picture, companies will rely more on rail, the use of which they could easily ramp up.