TransCanada acknowledged Tuesday that the Keystone XL Pipeline — even if approved — will not be operational until 2016. It’s the latest admission that the project, long stalled in the federal approval process, is losing relevance. The pipeline has been a flashpoint of controversy for environmentalists and industry leaders, but as the administration has drawn out its reviews, the pipeline’s significance from an energy standpoint has faded.
Oil-by-rail transportation has filled the gap in recent years where pipelines have met delays. The amount of oil shipped as U.S. train cargo has doubled in the past two years, and Canada is exporting oil barrels in the six figures daily after shipping just marginal amounts a year ago. One oil executive told National Journal the rail boom and new pipeline alternatives have rendered Keystone nonessential as a transporter of U.S. oil.
The spike in oil shipment alternatives has come largely over the past two years, and it’s likely to continue to expand in the two years it would take to build Keystone. “Rail has a first-mover advantage as a transport method for crude oil,” conceded Andrew Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. “Rail can gain market share while pipelines race to catch up.” Left unsaid is that the pipeline “catch-up” can be stalled by federal policy, not just construction time.
Meanwhile, environmental groups have taken heat for focusing efforts on the pipeline. New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait called the fight “marginally relevant to the cause of stopping global warming,” noting that the pipeline would contribute just a few tenths of a percent to U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, while coal-plant emissions are far larger.
But that isn’t likely to keep green groups from continuing the fight. An International Energy Agency report released earlier this month found that construction of the pipeline would cause tar-sands production to double by 2035. The added environmental and climate costs of that extra production has added fuel to the fire of environmentalists’ arguments.
No one doubts that Obama’s decision on Keystone will provoke heated responses from a variety of stakeholders. But, increasingly, the volume of the debate isn’t matched by the significance of the project.
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Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chair, announced he's pulling out of the running to regain the chairman's post. Dean "announced in a pre-recorded video to a conference of state Democratic chairs that he would step aside to allow for a new face to lead the party as it seeks to rebuild."
"Once again, businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein has come through for the National Park Service. This time, he's pledged funding needed to modernize the Washington Monument's elevator-- but the monument will remain closed until 2019 while repairs and improvements are underway. Rubenstein's donation of between $2-3 million, announced Friday, will correct those ongoing elevator issues, which have shuttered the monument since August 17."
The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."
Bill Schuette, Michigan's attorney general, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state to halt the recount of the state's voting results. The recount was elected by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Schuette says the recount shouldn't occur because Stein cited no evidence of voter fraud or tabulation error.
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