Guest Column: Obama Got It Right on Keystone XL

Texans have never been afraid of a challenge, especially when it comes to energy. Since discovering oil at Spindletop early last century, Texans have used ingenuity and hard work to make the Lone Star state the energy capital of the world.

But after the oil price slump of the 1980s exposing our economy’s vulnerability to oil dependence, dangers to national security rising from our oil addiction, and growing concerns about pollution threatening the air we breathe and water we drink, Texas leaders set goals to diversify our energy portfolio to include clean energy.

And Texas businesses have responded, making significant investments in wind, solar, advanced biofuels and fuel efficiency, helping reduce our oil dependence and demonstrating that we can power our state with energy sources that are clean and will never run out. Already, Texas has installed more wind turbines and Energy Star efficient buildings than any other state.

This week, President Obama stood up to Big Oil’s efforts to keep us mired in the dirty technologies of the past and rejected the permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would have been a disaster for our climate, the quality of the air we breathe, and critical water resources across our country. It would have deepened our dependence on dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands, producing catastrophic levels of global warming pollution.

Last year, Texas suffered from some of the most extreme weather in our history. The drought, the worst since 1789, led almost every reservoir in the state to drain to less than 60 percent of normal levels. The devastating wildfires, the worst in Texas history, destroyed more than 1,600 homes and nearly wiped out the Lost Pines of Bastrop State Park. The heat, the worst not just in Texas but in U.S. history, caused more than 100 Texans to die from heat stroke and exhaustion. And according to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, an appointee of Gov. George W. Bush, human-caused global warming is at least partly to blame.

Enter Keystone XL, a proposed 1,700-mile pipeline which would transport the dirtiest form of oil — tar sands — from Canada across America’s heartland all the way to Texas.

As oil from easy-to-reach reservoirs has run out, oil companies have increasingly used riskier and more environmentally destructive methods to obtain oil. Production of oil from Canada’s tar sands has destroyed vast areas of boreal forest, polluted local waterways with toxic substances, and increased global warming pollution.

Tar sands contribute 10 percent to 40 percent as much global warming pollution as conventional oil and one estimate found Keystone would result in climate damaging emissions equal to adding six million cars to U.S. roads. This led NASA’s top climate scientist to conclude that construction of the pipeline would mean game over for our climate.

The pipeline would also threaten our precious water supplies, crossing the Ogallala and Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers, which supply drinking water to millions of Texans. Over the past decade, more than 1 million barrels of oil products have leaked from petroleum pipelines, including oil from 14 spills since 2010 from existing pipelines operated by TransCanada, the company behind Keystone.

All this risk to Texas so that a foreign oil company can make billions selling Canadian oil to China and other countries.

The fact is we can create jobs and end our dependence on oil, but Keystone isn’t going to do it. Contrary to jobs claims from studies funded by Big Oil, independent estimates by the State Department, Cornell University researchers and others find that Keystone XL would create at most 4,500 positions. But what if we invested in clean energy instead?

Just ask the thousands of Texans who are already employed by the wind and solar industries. Talk to the thousands of carpenters, plumbers, and AC installers who are building and retrofitting the homes of the future — green, efficient homes that use less energy and save consumers money on their electric bills. Or look at Texas electric companies who are investing millions and creating jobs in infrastructure to put more electric cars on Texas roads. A recent study found that Obama’s proposal to raise fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 would create more than 400,000 jobs nationwide.

While Texas’ political leadership works tirelessly for Big Oil, Obama is taking concrete steps to reduce our dependence on oil and build a cleaner, healthier future for American families. Rejecting the Keystone permit was the right call, for Texas and the nation.

Luke Metzger is the Director of Environment Texas, a statewide, citizen-funded advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces.

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