Former Obama Science Official Backs Keystone XL Pipeline

Pipe is stacked at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. U.S. President Barack Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.
National Journal
Ben Geman
Feb. 20, 2014, 1:14 p.m.

Mar­cia McNutt, a sci­ent­ist who headed the U.S. Geo­lo­gic­al Sur­vey un­der Pres­id­ent Obama un­til early 2013, an­nounced Thursday that she now sup­ports ap­prov­al of the Key­stone XL oil pipeline.

McNutt is now the top ed­it­or at Sci­ence magazine. In an ed­it­or­i­al pub­lished there Thursday, McNutt de­scribes how she has come to back the pro­ject that she pre­vi­ously op­posed, and does not be­lieve it would worsen green­house-gas emis­sions.

“This po­s­i­tion may seem in­con­gru­ous with my per­son­al cru­sade to min­im­ize fossil fuel use, a de­sire rooted in sci­entif­ic un­der­stand­ing that cli­mate change is a real threat and that tar sands oil pro­duces high­er GHG emis­sions than many al­tern­at­ives,” writes McNutt.

But McNutt goes on to say she’s now con­vinced that build­ing Key­stone would not speed up oil sands de­vel­op­ment, and notes that de­veloper Tran­sCanada changed the ini­tial pro­posed route to avoid an eco­lo­gic­ally sens­it­ive re­gion of Neb­raska.

“No”¨ meth­od for mov­ing hy­dro­car­bons can be con­sidered com­pletely fail-safe. At least the cur­rent per­mit­ting pro­cess can, and should, be used to en­sure that Key­stone XL sets new stand­ards for en­vir­on­ment­al safety. There is no sim­il­ar lever­age on the truck and rail trans­port­a­tion op­tions, which pro­duce high­er GHG emis­sions and have a great­er risk of spills, at a high­er cost for trans­port,” she writes.

McNutt also served as sci­ence ad­viser to former In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Ken Salaz­ar when both were in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

McNutt, who holds a Ph.D. in earth sci­ences from the Scripps In­sti­tu­tion of Ocean­o­graphy, is now one of sev­er­al former Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who have weighed in on Key­stone as the fed­er­al re­view con­tin­ues.

Salaz­ar said this month that he be­lieves Key­stone should be built, and former Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Ad­viser Tom Doni­lon re­cently said he would re­com­mend ap­prov­al if he were still in the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Former cli­mate czar Car­ol Brown­er and former White House spokes­man Bill Bur­ton are among the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion vet­er­ans who op­pose Key­stone.

McNutt be­lieves there should be some strings at­tached to ap­prov­al of Key­stone, Tran­sCanada’s pro­ject that would bring oil from Al­berta’s oil-sands pro­jects to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies.

She sug­ges­ted that Obama could link ap­prov­al to “con­ces­sions” and policies that help spur green-en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and stem car­bon emis­sions.

“As part of a com­prom­ise to al­low the pro­ject to move for­ward, let’s now in­sist on an in­come stream from Key­stone XL rev­en­ues to sup­port in­vest­ment in re­new­able en­ergy sources to se­cure our en­ergy fu­ture,” she writes.

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