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Proposed Keystone Pipeline Prompts Protest March, Heated Debate

February 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The proposed Keystone Pipeline has spurred a large march protest in Washington and heated advocacy from supporters and opponents. Judy Woodruff weighs the debate with Bob Deans of the National Resources Defense Council and Scott Segal of Bracewell and Guiliani, the firm representing energy companies pushing the extension.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to this weekend’s protests and the big debate over the extension of an oil pipeline from Canada into the United States.

As the U.S. tries to navigate between clean energy and economic growth, as well as energy dependence vs. drilling, the president’s upcoming decision is increasingly seen as a crucial test by all sides.

Thousands of people marched on the National Mall in Washington yesterday, braving a cold winter wind to take part in what organizers called the biggest climate rally in U.S. history. They called for President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

PEG KAMENS, Protester: The reason I came here today is because I feel like President Obama is convincible. And I feel like, if we make a statement with our numbers and our passion, that he will get the message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Keystone project is designed to move crude oil, hundreds of thousands of barrels a day that would be extracted from the oil sands of Northern Alberta in Western Canada. The oil would be transported across several U.S. states to refineries and ports in Texas.

The company behind the 1,700-mile pipeline, TransCanada, has altered the route to largely bypass a water deposit in Nebraska. But protest organizers insisted the pipeline still threatens land it crosses and will mean even greater carbon pollution.

BILL MCKIBBEN, 350.Org: The president needs to think about what his legacy is going to be. Fifty years from now, no one is going to care about the fiscal cliff. They’re going to ask, the Arctic melted in 2012, and then what did you do? And this is the chance to do the right thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Keystone project has been pending for more than four years. In 2011, the president called for further study. But supporters of the multibillion-dollar pipeline have argued it will create thousands of jobs and reduce reliance on oil from the Middle East.

Last month, 44 Republicans in the U.S. Senate joined by nine Democrats called for the president to approve Keystone. Mr. Obama has given no direct signal about his intentions. But in his State of the Union address last week, he promised action on the broader climate issue.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To that end, the administration is also mulling tougher rules to curb emissions from coal-fired plants in a push toward cleaner energy.

As for Keystone, the State Department oversees cross-border pipelines and could release its recommendation as early as March.

We have our own debate on the pending decision and the many issues at stake. Bob Deans is with the NRDC. That’s the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of many groups organizing yesterday’s protests. And Scott Segal is a lobbyist and partner with firm of Bracewell & Giuliani. The firm represents a number of energy companies pushing for the Keystone extension.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

SCOTT SEGAL, Bracewell & Giuliani: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Bob Deans, let me start with you. What is the main harm done if this pipeline extension happens?

BOB DEANS, Natural Resources Defense Council: Well, the main idea here is to take some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, pipe it through the breadbasket of America so it can be sent overseas out of the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not about American jobs. It’s about profits for big oil companies. It’s a bad idea. It needs to be denied.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if it’s going through a pipeline, what’s the concern?

BOB DEANS: Well, we have had a lot of disasters with pipelines, of course.

The Kalamazoo River, 30 miles of that river was destroyed two years ago by a pipeline incident using these kinds of tar sands crude. It’s bad stuff. And these accidents do put this heartland at risk. And the thousands, hundreds of thousands of jobs — we have a quarter of a million farms and ranches in those great Plains states that your map just showed. Those are the real jobs in that region.

We need to protect them, not put them at risk.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying they would be harmed by …

BOB DEANS: They would certainly be put at risk by having this tar sands crude going through there.

But even more importantly, Judy, we talked about climate change. This tar sands crude requires three to four times the carbon inputs to produce that conventional crude oil does. It’s a disaster for climate change. We need to turn it down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, Scott Segal, he’s raising a number of concerns having to do with the oil itself and the impact of the kind of work that would be done to get it out of those tar sands. What do you say in response?

SCOTT SEGAL: Well, I’m afraid I disagree with most of the discussion that’s gone on so far.

First of all, if we are truly concerned about carbon, it seems to me building a state-of-the-art pipeline which is the most efficient way to get — to move oil around is the best approach. To move that oil to the west and send it to China on tankers that are fueled by diesel, it leaves a much greater carbon footprint.

In addition, that oil will make it to the United States, whether there’s a Keystone pipeline or not. And in the event it makes it to the United States, it will come by other forms of transportation which are far less energy-efficient, thus deepening that footprint.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying it would go to other countries and then come to the U.S. by ship or …

SCOTT SEGAL: Well, I would say there are two options. It’s either going to go to China or come to the United States. And in either event, the carbon footprint will be deeper.

The further point about whether or not an oil pipeline somehow endangers the land upon which it crosses I think has been asked and answered so many times, it’s no longer a relevant consideration. Look, the map of the United States is literally a spider web of oil and product pipelines. And …

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re saying already?


The fact of the matter is, the chances of sustaining a spill of oil out of an oil pipeline is one-quarter the amount of alternative forms of transportation, were we to take those oil pipelines away and take them in a different mechanism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Deans, what about that second point first? There’s already so many pipelines in the U.S., and the rate of spills or problems with that is so low.

BOB DEANS: Well, the reason we have these pipelines is because we have been addicted to fossil fuels for more than a century now.

We need to turn away from that. We need to begin using less oil. We’re using 10 percent less now than we did when President Obama took office because we’re using more renewables. We’re more efficient. We need to continue investing and moving in that direction, not building more infrastructures to support the ruinous fossil fuels of the past that are driving and accelerating this climate disaster.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you want to respond to that?


We’re using less oil now because we’re in a recession. And the hope is — in fact, the number one priority of President Obama is that we make an economic recovery and come out of that recession. The notion that we will depend on less efficient forms of energy like solar and wind exclusively or, worse yet, on energy conservation alone, at a time when we’re trying to grow ourselves out of a recession, is unrealistic, is damaging to economy, and frankly will not be the alternative that will be chosen.

We’re in an oil-based economy. And we should have the type of energy security which allows us to have defendable supply lines and not pay for our oil to those who want to do harm to the United States.

BOB DEANS: May I say something?

Clean energy jobs are now employing 3.1 million Americans around the country. That’s according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. These jobs have grown almost out of nowhere over the past decade, at a time when we have lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs. These jobs have been a bright spot in a tough economy for three million American families.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the other points that he’s raised. One is that the oil, if it doesn’t come through this pipeline, it’s going to eventually get to the U.S. anyway. And it’s going to come through potentially dirtier sources that burn — that use more carbon — or expend more carbon, and the other argument, that if the U.S. doesn’t use this oil, it’s going to go to other countries anyway, that it’s going to get used somewhere on the planet.

BOB DEANS: Well, here’s the thing.

That — these tar sands are boreal forests, one of the last wild places on the planet. We have already destroyed, made an industrial wasteland out of a part of that forest the size of Chicago. That needs to stop. Alberta, where these tar sands are, is a long way from Shanghai. That oil is not going to China, unless it goes out of the west coast of Canada. They won’t build a pipeline there because the Canadian people don’t want it crossing their farms, their salmon streams, their native lands. And we respect that.

SCOTT SEGAL: No, the Canadians have already said they are in favor of a pipeline. The problem is not with the Canadian polity.

The problem here is with a few elite environmentalist organizations that are trying to stop 20,000 jobs in construction, trying to stop a multiplier effect of many more jobs in the manufacturing sector and $20 billion dollars net contribution to the U.S. economy, all for very specious environmental and safety concerns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you answer that?

BOB DEANS: Judy, complete nonsense.

We had 30-some-thousand people from all over the country assembled by the Washington Monument and marched to the people’s house, the White House, to say — I talked to these people. I was out there. There were people from New Orleans. They had come up all the way from Louisiana. There were people from Maine. There were people from Nebraska.

There were people from all over this country and from all walks of life, farmers, students, businessmen, folks who are saying we need to turn away from the fossil fuels of the past, invest in efficiency and renewables and build a 21st century economy on new fuels and …

SCOTT SEGAL: And many, many, many more work in industry in the 20 industrial sectors which are energy-intensive and trade-exposed in this country that depend on the reliable and affordable supplies of energy.

Even the steelworkers who were opposed to this at one point now appear to be coming round and are likely to support the pipeline because they know the steel itself is sourced here in the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me finally ask you both, what’s at stake ultimately here, Scott Segal, if this pipeline is not built, in your view?


Well, in my view, the United States loses on the energy security front. The United States loses on the job creation front. The United States gains absolutely nothing from either a global climate change or a protection of wild areas, because we already have a dependence on these pipelines and a significant network of them. All that happens is the president becomes embarrassed in front of our number one trading partner, the Canadians, and all for no net benefit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what’s at stake, from your perspective?

BOB DEANS: You know, the climate.

Judy, we just finished the hottest year on round in this country. We lost 50 percent of our corn across the heartland, 60 percent of our pasture lands. We had ranchers liquidating their herds from the Rocky Mountains to the Ohio River Valley because they couldn’t afford to feed their cattle anymore.

We lost 130 Americans. We did $80 billion dollars worth of damage just from Hurricane Sandy. We have a crisis. This climate chaos needs to end. And that’s a conversation we can have with our friends in Canada because they’re working like we are to reduce their carbon footprint. They’re working like we are to improve renewables. They’re working like we are to do more with less. We need to partner around that and create jobs of the future in Canada and the United States. We’re going to do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the debate over this pipeline extension goes on. And we thank you both for being here with us tonight.

Bob Deans, Scott Segal, we appreciate it.

SCOTT SEGAL: Thank you.