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Principles Involved in Keystone XL Pipeline Decision

The following is an exchange between Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and me regarding the Keystone pipeline.  Below is my response to his initial constituent letter (further below).  I don’t know if this is of interest or value to readers of this blog, but  I encourage everyone to be vigilant and vocal regarding this issue in the comming months.  Thank you.

Dear Senator Menendez,

I thank you and your staff for getting back to me regarding my concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline.  I needed to respond to what I read as an equivocal response to my concerns.

In general, the choices we make are good to the extent that they improve our future options and support the imperatives of life.  Jobs today in exchange for environmental degradation lasting over a millennium is a Faustian bargain. Developing the Canadian tar sands is a bad, short term profit driven idea. The energy the planet will derive is minimal while the harm it will cause is measurable and will degrade life for generations to come.

But that decision is not in our nations hands. The only issue for us is how to minimize the environmental impact of transporting tar sands through the US.  In this regard, a “black swan” analysis is the best measure in my view.  Given enough time, our worst case scenarios always under estimate the actual impact of worst case events.

Therefore, any transportation options that would limit the volume of future releases of tar sands into the environment and confine spills to our Earth’ surface are far preferable to the pipe line where far greater volumes of subterranean releases are possible.  I ask you and your staff to keep this in mind when evaluating the final environmental impact study and in considering how you ultimately decide.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this message.

Brian Lynch

Here is Senator Menendez’ original response to my concerns:

Dear Mr. Lynch:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about the proposed Canadian tar sands oil pipeline.  Your opinion is very important to me, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you on this critical issue.

I share your concerns about the environmental impact of tar sands and of the Keystone XL pipeline.  That is why I joined several of my colleagues in sending a letter to the State Department requesting answers to a number of questions about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement the State Department had produced for the pipeline proposal.  The letter raised concerns about the environmental degradation caused by oil extraction, greenhouse gas emissions, and the risks associated with transporting oil through the United States.  My concerns led me to vote against a proposal to circumvent the permitting process and build the pipeline without proper review.  However, I have also heard from proponents of the pipeline who have emphasized the jobs that will be created by the project, as well as its possible energy security benefits.

As you know, the Obama Administration has delayed a decision on the pipeline pending a review of alternate routes.  On March 1st, the State Department issued a draft environmental review of the Keystone XL project that evaluated other methods of transporting the oil, such as trucks, barges and two train options.  The report determined that all options would carry environmental risk, and that the train options would actually release more greenhouse gases than the proposed pipeline.  The State Department’s report concludes that “(a)pproval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands.”  Following this draft report, there will be a 45-day comment period, followed by a final environmental report and a recommendation from the Secretary of State as to whether the Keystone pipeline is in the national interest.

Ensuring that we are making smart choices about our nation’s energy future and protecting the health and safety of Americans are two of my top priorities.  Please rest assured that, in my position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will keep your views in mind as I closely monitor this ongoing situation.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of more assistance.  I invite you to visit my website (http://menendez.senate.gov) to learn more about how I am standing up for New Jersey families in the United States Senate.