On Keystone XL, John Kerry, and the global interest

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Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Secretary of State Kerry calls on developing countries to reduce their carbon emissions, while U.S. corporations push exports of coal, oil, and natural gas. In the U.S. "National Interest Determination" on whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, how does the U.S. 'national interest' relate to the larger global interest? Are they the same? A few notes.

Speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia, on February 16, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change a weapon of mass destruction and urged developing countries to do more to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. The Washington Post reported ("Kerry calls climate change a weapon of mass destruction, derides skeptics"):

Kerry painted a picture of looming drought and famine, massive floods and deadly storms as a result of global warming, and he urged ordinary citizens in developing nations to speak out on the issue and demand more from their political leaders. He labeled those who denied the evidence of climate change as “shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues.” ...

“It’s absolutely true that industrialized countries have to play a leading role in reducing emissions, but that doesn’t mean other nations have the right to repeat the mistakes of the past. It’s not enough for one country or even a few countries to reduce emissions when other countries continue to fill the atmosphere with carbon pollution as they see fit,” he said.

“If even one or two major economies neglects to respond to this threat, it will counteract all of the good work that the rest of the world does. When I say we need a global solution, I mean we need a global solution.”

A video of the Kerry's full talk is here.

Amen to a global solution, and to the industrialized countries that have grown rich in fossil-fueled comfort playing a lead role in aiding developing countries in preparing for the consequent disruptive impacts of climate change, cutting emissions, and phasing out the fossil fuel-based energy economy.

My experience of John Kerry is that he is on the level in his concern about climate disruption and commitment to taking strong action in the U.S. and globally. But I wonder what he has to say about the points raised in a powerful article by Tim Dickinson in the February 13 issue of Rolling Stone ("How the U.S. Exports Global Warming")? It's a substantial piece and a must-read. It includes this as a frame:

"Even as our nation is pivoting toward a more sustainable energy future, America's oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet's dirty-energy dealer – supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s – when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand – Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade.

"'The Obama administration wants to be seen as a climate leader, but there is no source of fossil fuel that it is prepared to leave in the ground,' says Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International. 'Coal, gas, refinery products – crude oil is the last frontier on this. You want it? We're going to export it.'"

Source: Mirror (UK)

Source: Mirror (UK)

Now, Secretary Kerry has the puck on his stick in making a National Interest determination on whether to grant a permit for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

I won't recapitulate here the multiple arguments against the pipeline, but note that Dickinson calls out the Obama administration for already playing a role in pushing tar sands oil exports as a 'free trade' issue:

"The tar-sands boom has the United States poised to become a top player in the global-export market for gasoline and diesel. And Obama's top trade ambassador has been working behind the scenes to make sure that our climate-conscious European allies don't shutter their markets to fuels refined from the filthy Canadian crude. ...

"In backroom negotiations, [U.S. trade representative Michael] Froman has worked to undermine new European Union fuel standards intended to lower the continent's carbon emissions. The European standards would work, in part, by grading the carbon toxicity of various crude oils. They logically propose placing polluting tar-sands oil in a carbon class all by itself; on its path from a pit mine to the filling station, a gallon of tar-sands gas is responsible for 81 percent more climate pollution than the average gallon of regular. But instead of respecting the EU's commitment to slow global warming, Froman has worked to force North America's dirtiest petrol into the tanks of Europe's Volkswagens, Peugeots and lorries.

"His hardball tactics were revealed in obscure written congressional testimony last year. In a question to Froman, Rep. Kevin Brady, an oil-friendly Texas Republican, slammed the European proposal as a 'discriminatory, environmentally unjustified' trade barrier. Froman responded, 'I share your concerns,' and described his work to 'press the Commission to take the views of . . . U.S. refiners under consideration.' He explained how he had turned the standards into a point of contention in negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a major free-trade pact being hammered out between the U.S. and the EU. Last October, Froman's team even went before the World Trade Organization to demand that all globally traded petroleum products be treated 'without discrimination.'

"Froman's dirty-energy advocacy provoked an angry letter last December from the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force – prominently co-signed by [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren. It blasted the ambassador's efforts to 'undercut' the EU's climate goals as well as his 'shortsighted view of the United States' economic interests.' ... The ambassador's office has not responded."

The Rolling Stone piece deals with a number of U.S. fossil-fuel export policy issues that, all in all, paint a picture of an administration that is attempting to straddle climate and energy policy in such a way that it wins support on the progressive side for having a proactive domestic climate policy while, in effect, having no backbone on challenging the dominant corporate energy interests and their global ambitions.

I suspect Secretary Kerry would not see current U.S. fossil fuel export policy as in the best long-term interest of the country, and certainly not in the interest of the developing country leaders to whom he is now speaking -- if he could speak freely rather than as an Obama appointee subject to a politically opportunistic White House. If the U.S. 'national interest' is in pushing short-term fossil fuel industry interests in its dealings with the rest of the world, then the 'national interest' and the global interest are not the same.

Some earlier posts on Keystone XL:

Keystone XL tar sands pipeline & the "National Interest" (February 3, 2014)

Comments to the State Dept on the Keystone XL pipeline Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (April 22, 2013)

On Kerry:

John Kerry and climate change: Recalling a federal lawsuit against the Bush administration (February 7, 2013)

Recalling an exchange with Sen. John Kerry about climate change and the Bush White House (January 21, 2013)

See also:

Michael Mann in The Guardian: Approving Keystone XL could be the biggest mistake of Obama's presidency

350.org: President Obama Has All He Needs to Reject Keystone XL

Natural Resources Defense Council: Next Up for Keystone XL: The Question of National Interest Will Show That the Tar Sands Pipeline Must Be Rejected

Tom Steyer letter to Secretary of State John Kerry

DeSmogBlog: State Department Releases Flawed Keystone XL Final Environmental Review In Super Bowl Friday Trash Dump

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