Diane talks with James Hohmann, national political correspondent for the Washington Post and author of the "Daily 202" newsletter.
It’s been six years since TransCanada Corp. applied for a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf States. So far, President Barack Obama has not approved the pipeline, citing environmental concerns. But following the recent midterm elections, the pipeline is back in the spotlight. Last week, the House of Representatives voted again to approve Keystone. And last night, the Senate came within one vote of passing a similar bill offered by embattled Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Diane and guests discuss the political showdown over the Keystone XL pipeline and where it goes from here.
- Coral Davenport Climate and energy reporter, The New York Times
- Nicolas Loris Energy policy analyst, Heritage Foundation
- Bob Deans Director of editorial content for the Natural Resources Defense Council; co-author of "The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A bill that would have authorized construction of the Keystone XL pipeline failed to pass the Senate last night by one vote. The bill was cosponsored by embattled Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, who faces a runoff election on December 6th. Joining me to talk about why the Keystone bill failed and what it could mean for the future of the controversial pipeline, Robert Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Coral Davenport of the New York Times and Nicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-33-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. NICOLAS LORISGood morning. Thank you.
MS. CORAL DAVENPORTGood morning. It's great to be with you, Diane.
MR. BOB DEANSMorning.
REHMNice to see you all. Coral, remind us how we got to the point of a Senate vote on Keystone last night. I thought President Obama was going to make the decision himself.
DAVENPORTWell, so all along, since the Keystone was first proposed way back in 2005, the expectation has been that under the law the State Department actually makes this decision. The State Department is supposed to decide if projects that cross international boundaries are in the national interest. Thus, it's always been the executive's decision to make. What happened with this vote -- what this bill was supposed to do, is this vote essentially -- this bill takes away that authority from the president.
DAVENPORTThe lawmakers who wrote this bill said, our interpretation of the Constitution is that we, the Congress, under a Constitutional clause that says the legislative branch can make decisions about commerce engaging with a foreign nation. We take that authority away from you under that clause we get to make that decision and our decision is that the Keystone should be built.
REHMAnd how come Mary Landrieu pushed for this so hard and failed to make it?
DAVENPORTSo Mary Landrieu is one of the last of the southern Democrats in the U.S. And she is in a runoff race. The race -- the closest, tightest race of her political career. That election, final election in her runoff, is going to take place December 6th. Throughout her political career Mary Landrieu has stood away from the rest of the Democrats in Congress.
DAVENPORTShe has voted consistently for the oil and gas industry. That's because that's the backbone of Louisiana's economy. She's done this time and time again. And what we've seen is Democrats in the Senate, for years, kind of hold their noses and go ahead and vote for these bills because it would help keep that Senate seat in Louisiana. They voted for offshore drilling. They voted for bills, you know, huge aid for Katrina restoration. Again and again and again, you know, a lot -- diverting lots of money to Louisiana.
DAVENPORTAnd they've done this on bills that they haven't really liked, but Mary Landrieu has been able to go back and win elections on those. So this was a case of Mary Landrieu once again coming back to the Senate Democrats and saying, look, I'm in this tight election. Go to bat for me. You know, vote for this and I can go back and run on this in Louisiana. And what we saw is Democrats in the Senate kind of saying no.
DAVENPORTWe're just, you know, she rounded up 14 Democrats. She needed to get 15. Any one of the rest of the caucus could have made that deciding vote. And, you know, they looked at this and it was kind of a breakaway in saying no, we're not going to do this for you anymore, Mary Landrieu, you know. And it doesn't look like you're going to win your race anyway.
REHMCoral Davenport. She is climate and energy reporter at the New York Times. Bob Deans, why do you think that this Keystone bill failed to pass the Senate?
DEANSWell, I think it's -- Coral put her finger on it when she said is this in the national interest. That's really the question for the president. It was really the question for our leaders in the Senate. And the answer is no. After all this is really a plan to destroy one of the last wild places on Earth, to dig up some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, pipe it through the American breadbasket to Gulf Coast refineries so it can be turned into fuel to be shipped overseas. It's not a plan to help this country. It's about big profits for big oil, big pollution for the rest of us. And I think the senators realized that.
REHMYou know, it's interesting that in her remarks on the Senate floor last night Senator Barbara Boxer said the XL in the pipeline's name stood for extra lethal. Is she right?
DEANSExtra lethal in this sense, that dirty tar sands crude is 17 percent more harmful to our climate than conventional crude oil. And what does that mean? When you're talking about 700,000 barrels a day, the State Department calculated, Diane, that would be the equivalent pollution of putting 5.7 million cars on the road. That's as many as are in the state of Pennsylvania. We'd have to park those cars permanently, just to offset the damage from that. It's bad stuff.
REHMNicolas Loris, I wonder if you weren't surprised that the Senate did not vote to pass the pipeline.
LORISYou know, I don't know what to expect any more when it comes to Keystone XL because it's been such a political football since Trans Canada first applied for the application to -- for the approval of the pipeline. And I think this project is in the national interest. So I am a little surprised that we're not already building the northern leg of this pipeline because it's a win for the economy. There's going to be thousands of construction jobs.
LORISAnd even though there's only going to be 35 to 50 permanent jobs, this project is going to create a lot of economic value. And I think you should look at that high productivity of labor when it comes to this project. And I think it's a win for the environment because if we don't build this pipeline, there's going to be alternative solutions to get that oil out of the ground and down to the Gulf Coast and to other markets, whether it's through rail, whether it's through barges, whether it's through smaller pipelines.
LORISThat's all going to lead to higher probabilities of spills and higher CO2 emissions. And Bob mentioned that incremental 17 percent greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands oil. That's not much of a climate impact, though. And if you look at the pipeline, it could operate for 1,000 years and it would still only make one-tenth of a degree Celsius over that time frame. It's a very infinitesimal part of the climate pie, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.
REHMWhat kinds of alternatives do you believe there might be?
LORISWell, rail's been the biggest so far. And in 2011 we weren't really seeing any rail coming down from -- up from Canada, down to the Gulf Coast. That's increased to more than 200,000 barrels of oil per day down to the Gulf Coast already. I think that's only going to continue to increase. We've seen the first delivery of tar sands oil to European markets. There's options to go to Asian markets, as well.
LORISAnd, yeah, some of those are going to have resistance, but there's a lot of value in this oil. And Canada believes that they can do it in an environmentally sensible manner so they're going to pursue those opportunities.
REHMNicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation. Bob Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-author of "The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril." If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Coral, what about those jobs? There's been such widespread figures used out there.
DAVENPORTThe State Department did a review of both the environmental and economic impact of this. And they found that during the two-year construction period of the Keystone, that project would create 3,900 temporary construction jobs. It also found that those jobs would lead in that -- only two-year period to about 40,000 indirect jobs. That's jobs in food service, hotels, jobs that are sustained as those workers put money into the economy. So support or indirect. So that's, you know, 42,000 temporary jobs over the two years, but after that it would support 35 permanent jobs going forward.
DAVENPORTThirty-five. So it's -- it is accurate to call it a job creator, but, you know, it's not massive. It's not going to change the economy.
REHMWhat do you think about that Bob Deans?
DEANSPretty bad tradeoff, Diane. Thirty-five jobs is less than it takes to staff a McDonalds. And the real jobs in this region are coming from the ranches and farms, more than 110,000 just in those three states, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.
REHMAnd how might they be affected by the pipeline?
DEANSWell, they all depend absolutely on clean water, clean air and clean lands. And this pipeline would threaten all of that. It would cross 1,100 waterways, rivers, wetlands, streams and lakes in just those three states alone, Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana.
REHMWhat about that, Nicolas?
LORISWell, this is what the State Department looked at, they looked at how the pipeline would affect soil, vegetation, the Ogallala Aquifer, which has been a contentious issue.
LORISAbsolutely. And, you know, the proposed 17 alternative routes with, you know, almost 80 I believe minor modifications to the pipeline. And they found this would be the safest way. If they looked at the sediment of which the pipeline would run over, the Ogallala Aquifer and 85 percent of the Aquifer lies to the west of where the pipeline is and slopes down eastward. So there is almost zero chance that that oil could reach that part of the aquifer.
LORISThe remaining 15 percent, the sediment -- the clay sediment makes it so that that oil can never really get down to the aquifer, which is why the Department of State concluded that this would be an environmentally safe project.
REHMNicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation. Short break here. Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd as we talk about the Keystone Pipeline, the vote in the Senate last night that fell one vote short of approval, here's a tweet from Vee who said, "Isn't the Keystone pipeline already operating? Will stopping it do anything?" And I would add to that, what would a yes or no vote mean to that portion that's already operating? Would a no vote stop what's going on now, Bob?
DEANSNo, Diane. There is pipeline existing that goes from Nebraska down to the Gulf coast. The leg that's in question would connect Nebraska to the Canadian border.
REHMAnd no reversal then if, in fact, State Department found, for example, that the environmental harm was greater than the economic gain, Coral.
DAVENPORTThe State Department review is all about the part of the project that's already proposed. So you've got about half the pipeline already built and operating. That oil is already moving. What's actually proposed is an extension of the pipeline that would allow it to move more oil and faster across a different portion of the country.
REHMWell, why has this part been so controversial when the other part moved on?
DAVENPORTDiane, this is such an interesting story. The whole pipeline -- the project was initially proposed back in 2005. The company that wants to build it TransCanada applied to the State Department for their permit in 2008.
DAVENPORTDuring this whole process most people had never heard of the pipeline. It was not an issue in the 2008 presidential election, even though that election did touch in a great deal on environmental and energy issues. That was the election of drill baby drill. No one brought up the pipeline. It didn't really become a political issue until the summer of 2011 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was just about to sign off on the project.
DAVENPORTThere had been several reviews. It was a kind of an under-the-radar thing. It wasn't a big political issue. And then environmental groups decided going into the 2012 election that they wanted to make climate change and environmental issues a big issue for President Obama. And they wanted to force him to hold true to his climate promises. And they decided that Keystone was going to be the issue they were going to rally around.
DAVENPORTYou may remember, that's all of a sudden when we saw these big protests around the White House summer of 2011 that was prompted by Secretary of State Clinton just about to sign off. They did the big protests around the White House. They started protesting all around the country. Wherever President Obama traveled, the protestors were there. And then Tom Steyer, one of President Obama's big billionaire donors, went to the president and personally told him, you know, this is an issue for me. I want you not to approve the pipeline. And so he delayed the decision. They didn't sign off on it.
DAVENPORTThat effectively gave Republicans a great weapon to go after him on. They said, well, this is, you know, a great piece of energy infrastructure. It's a job creator. It brings us oil from our friendly neighbor to the north. And the president doesn't want to approve it. So it was elevated from this kind of, you know, backburner, under-the-radar issue all of a sudden to this big political issue in the 2012 campaign.
REHMSo Bob Deans, if in fact it is such an important issue for you now, why wasn't it when the first part of the pipeline was built?
DEANSWell, I think, Diane, there's a little confusion because that first part of the pipeline that was built really wasn't about this. This was connecting oil in the south from Nebraska and from the middle of this country down to the Gulf coast refineries.
DEANSWhat happened here actually was, when we began to realize our president went to the tar sands in Alberta in 2009 and visited with Cree nations and saw what this horrendous, one of the most destructive industrial practices ever devised was doing to the Boreal Forest in Canada. That's the point at which we engaged. And we're not a political operation. We're setting the politics aside. What we're about is, what is this doing for the future of our country? It's taking us in the wrong direction. The Canadians don’t want it either...
REHMSo you're talking about the tar sands themselves...
REHM...as opposed to transporting the oil from the existing pipeline.
DEANSRight. And this pipeline that is being discussed now would enable 700,000 barrels a day of that oil to get to market. Right now it can't get to market.
REHMWhat about that, the whole content, Nicolas, of -- and the type of oil we're talking about?
LORISWell, I agree that it is more greenhouse gas intense. And President Obama himself said in a speech last June at Georgetown University, said he would make this determination based on whether this pipeline was a significant contributor to climate change. And that's all fine and well but the State Department said that, hey, this oil is coming out of the ground anyway. Why not do it in the most efficient way possible? Why not do it in a way that's less greenhouse gas intense than shipping it through barges and rail and smaller pipelines?
LORISSo the State Department did conclude that this wouldn't contribute significantly to climate change, which again I think given the economic value of the project, given all the studies that the Department of State has done for in total now, this project is a win-win.
REHMHow much of that oil would stay here, Coral? How much would it have an impact on U.S. households?
DAVENPORTWell, the pipeline is designed to take the crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf coast. And then -- and to ports on the Gulf coast. The idea is the oil goes into the global market. And, you know, there's not necessarily enough oil there to make a huge impact or a significant impact in global oil prices. It will go into the global market. It probably won't make that much difference one way or another in U.S. gas...
REHMOkay. We talked about alternatives of transport earlier. Isn't there also another plan simply to ship it straight out of Canada without coming across the U.S., Coral?
DAVENPORTSo TransCanada is also looking at an alternative pipeline, if the Keystone doesn't get approved, that would just take the oil across Canada and ship it directly from there. I should note, that pipeline is also -- that alternative proposal is also meeting a lot of controversy and a lot of opposition in Canada.
DAVENPORTFor many of the same reasons as it is in the U.S.
REHMIn other words, Canada doesn't want it crossing its land anymore than some farmers want it crossing our land. What do you make of that, Nicolas?
LORISWell, I certainly don't want to violate the private property rights of landowners and farmers, but again, TransCanada has worked with a lot of these property owners to pay easements to them to understand that this project will bring a lot of economic value. And we've already seen that with the southern leg of the pipeline. It's injected over $2 billion into the Oklahoma economy, the same with Texas.
LORISSo that portion of the project created 4,000 temporary construction jobs. And the same can be said for the north in which the revenue paid through -- from TransCanada to the state will be injected into schools. It will be injected into local and state conservation projects, all those things.
REHMHelp me to understand, give me a vague idea of how much an Oklahoma or Nebraska farmer is being paid for an easement on his land?
LORISI don't have the exact value with me, but I think what TransCanada is willing to pay, $80.3 billion -- million, excuse me, in total Montana property taxes. So in some of these towns, it equates to over $10,000 per resident. So you're talking about pretty significant monies.
REHMSo it doesn't go to the farmer him or herself, even with the easement?
LORISWell, some of it does. Some of it's, again, injected into the...
LORIS...given to the state and given to the public lands, and again, given to the schools and given to the state and local economies for conservation projects.
REHMWell, clearly last night's vote is not the end of the story, Coral.
DAVENPORTAbsolutely not. As soon as the Senate finished that vote, Senator Republican Leader, soon to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky went out on the Senate floor and vowed that this would be one of the very first issues that he would bring up as soon as the Senate returns in January with the Republican majority. They'll have the ability to bring that to the floor right away. And they'll have the votes. It's clear, if you have 59 votes in a Democratic majority Senate, they'll have no problem sending this to the president's desk.
REHMSo is it likely to be a political tradeoff? Might President Obama vow not to veto it if he gets something in exchange like a minimum wage, Bob Deans?
DEANSI couldn't speculate on it, Diane, but I do know this. Presidents going back to Richard Nixon have been saying, this country needs to end its addiction to oil, costly, dangerous to our security, to our economy, to our health, to our future. Here's a chance for a president to stand up and really do something about that, to say, we're not going to invest in something that's going to keep us addicted to a dirty, dangerous fuel for another 40 years. We're going to invest in the clean energy solutions of tomorrow.
REHMWhat do you think could happen, Nicolas?
LORISYeah, it's hard to speculate what the president will do. I think every time I try to make a prediction thinking what the president would do, he did the opposite. So I'm probably 0 for 8 right now. But again, since he said he would make this determination based on climate change and it would not significantly contribute to climate change, I don't think he can credibly say that it's not in the national interest given the economic benefits and the minimal environmental impact.
REHMBut -- pardon me -- isn't there still a lawsuit in Nebraska, Coral?
DAVENPORTYes. So the route of the pipeline through Nebraska was challenged. And the Supreme Court of Nebraska has yet to weigh in on a verdict on the governor of Nebraska's ability to cite that route, to permit that route through the state. And until now the president has said, we are going to hold off on continuing our environmental review until that Nebraska court decision is done. That was probably a way for them to avoid making a decision until after the midterm elections.
DAVENPORTMidterm elections are over and we expect that the Nebraska court will weigh in, will make that decision sometime in the next couple of months, possibly by the end of the year, maybe by January, but it's coming up soon. That takes away the president's excuse, you know, to say that we're not going to make this decision because the process isn't complete. They'll make that decision. The State Department can finish the last of their reviews. It will be really hard for him to avoid ripping off that Band-Aid and finally deciding one way or the other.
REHMWhat do you hope will happen, Bob?
DEANSI hope the president will stand up for what's good for the country, not just what's good for the oil and gas industry.
REHMBut what do you think could come out of that Nebraska court?
DEANSOut of the Nebraska court I think -- I hope that the courts will protect their farmers and their landowners. Some of these people have been there, of course, for three generations. They homesteaded that property. They've seen what happened to the Kalamazoo River when 38 miles were contaminated by a tar sand spill. They saw what happened in nearby Mayflower, Ark. when the same thing happened. They don't want to see that happening to their farms and ranches.
DAVENPORTAnd one piece of this Nebraska decision, if the Nebraska court says that the governor improperly allowed that permit, that citing to go through. Then the company TransCanada has to go back to the drawing board, you know, create a new route, apply for a new permit. That could take months, possibly even years. If they do that then that probably would give a president, you know, another excuse to say, well, we're going to wait until all this is done. I mean, that is one outcome. It can continue to drag on. It could drag on, in fact, to the next president.
REHM...for years. For years, Nicolas.
LORISYeah, in fact, six since TransCanada first submitted its application. And I think it's been really one excuse after another. There was conflict of interest things. The inspector general found out that that wasn't a problem. You know, it was kicked over to Nebraska. It was climate change. It's one after another and all these things are being finalized and another excuse is being made up.
REHMNicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's hear what listeners have to say, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to San Antonio, Texas. Chip, you're on the air.
CHIPHello. Good afternoon or good morning.
CHIPThank you for taking my call.
CHIPI still don’t think that an adequate cost benefit analysis has been presented to the American people. I mean, 35 jobs for all of this? Also if the sum total of this is a big wet kiss to the extraction industries and as a way to stick it to the president, I still don't think that it's been proven as a value-adder to the American public.
REHMAll right. Nicolas Loris.
LORISWell again, I think the fact that the pipeline once finished requires few employees to operate them is a plus. You know, it means that it's highly efficient and has a high productivity of labor. And, you know, we could prevent construction companies from using mechanized equipment and hire laborers, and that would employ a lot of people but it wouldn't be efficient. So I think the fact that this pipeline is efficient, would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day down to our Gulf coast refineries is a plus for our economy.
REHMAll right. To Tahlequah, Okla. Hi, Bob.
BOBHello. Glad you're discussing this today. Over 2,000 pounds of pressure be pushed through that big pipe, this is nothing but accidents waiting to happen. This guy you got on from the Heritage Foundation, Nicolas, is delusional, insane. I would...
REHMWell, I don't think you need to address people in that manner. I understand you don't agree with it and I think there are ways to express yourself in a less ad hominem fashion. Let's go to Tom in Miami, Fla. Hi there, you're on the air.
REHMTom, are you there?
TOMYes, can you hear me?
REHMYeah, sure can. Go right ahead.
TOMOkay. Well, one of the concerns that I have about the alternatives to the XL pipeline is the train derailments that have happened, especially in Canada where they wiped out a whole town. Part of the problem there I think was the containers are not built to hold the shale oil and they are too long with not enough workers on the trains. So I think there's a dual problem of safety for the land and safety for labor that should be considered in all alternatives. But I don't think that that should be overlooked in this discussion about the alternative of bringing it by rail and what that could do to small towns across the United States and across Canada.
REHMThanks for your call. Bob Deans.
DEANSTom, it's an important consideration. Rail is threatening a lot of communities around this country because we have accelerated, as Nicolas said, our shipment of crude oil by rail. But let's not conflate the problems. We have an issue with rail safety that needs to be addressed but you would need ten trains a mile long each to move as much oil as this pipeline would move. They're not comparable. What the oil industry wants to do is continue moving oil by rail and add the pipeline. It's not an either-or. It's a false choice.
DAVENPORTThe caller raises a really important point though which is already that oil is being moved by rail. Oil companies are pointing out, and the State Department review also pointed out, if the pipeline's not being built, that oil is coming out of the ground. It's going to be moved by rail or by truck or possibly by alternative pipelines. And we are also seeing a lot more of these explosions. It is a safety hazard.
REHMCoral Davenport of the New York Times. Short break here. When we come back, we'll here more.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the Keystone XL pipeline, the vote in the Senate last night, one vote short of approving it. Here's a tweet from Joanna who'd like to know what the plan is for when there is a leak in the pipeline. Who would pay for the cleanup? Nicolas.
LORISWell, TransCanada would and should pay for the cleanup. I mean, that's standard procedure and we've seen that in the past where, you know, there's been spills and these companies should be liable for the accidents that they cause both to any persons harmed, but also to any type of environmental damage done.
LORISAnd I think there's a lot of liability reform that needs to be done. I think that was one of the biggest problems with the offshore spill is that the liability system that we have right now in place, I think, is a huge subsidy to the oil industries and we need to reform that to make them more responsible and make sure that they can pay for the environmental damage they could cause before they're beginning to operate.
REHMThe question, Bob Deans, becomes can you really, thoroughly clean up the environment once it's been damaged in that way.
DEANSAnd the history is no, unfortunately, Diane. We know that after the BP blowout, all the skimming, 50,000 people involved, hundreds of boats. They got up 3 percent of that oil was skimmed up. And what we've seen in this country with pipelines is we've had 5700 blowouts or leaks in just the past two decades.
DEANSFifty-seven hundred. They've killed 373 Americans in just the past two decades. They have spilled 100 million gallons of oil and other hazardous waste, most of which has never been cleaned up so the record is poor.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Teresa in Oregon. She wants to know if the pipeline is crossing tribal lands and if so, where? Coral?
DAVENPORTI know this is one of the big issues with the proposed pipeline in Canada, the alternate route. The First Nations in Canada have been huge opponents of this. In the U.S., I believe that it would go -- I know that tribes -- there are tribal groups who oppose the pipeline. I think it crosses some tribal lands in Nebraska. I don't know if it's as much of an issue in the U.S. as it is in Canada, but certainly Native American groups, generally have united to oppose it.
REHMAnd a final email from Edward in Michigan who says, "my understanding is it's not light oil, but bitumen. Bitumen is thick, viscous low quality oil. It's so thick, chemicals must be added to make it flow through the pipeline. It also has to be heated to make it flow. How toxic and dangerous is this bitumen if it spills?" Coral.
DAVENPORTIt is more toxic. It's a lot thicker. It has the consistency, unheated, of peanut butter. It's sort of this really thick, black, toxic tar and this is one of the concerns that the people along the proposed route have about it. If there's a spill, that's bad enough, but this is really extra thick, toxic stuff that's a lot harder to clean up and could have a lot more local impact if there's a leak.
REHMDoes it really have to be heated, Bob Deans?
DEANSIt does have to be heated. Underground, when it's cold, it is as hard as a hockey puck. It has to be steam-reamed out of the ground unless it is strip-mined. That's why it's so destructive. They have to take two tons of sand out of the ground, Diane, and contaminate three barrels of water to get one barrel of this low-grade bitumen.
DEANSSeriously, I mean, it's a horrendous practice. And then, you put it in the pipeline -- and our caller from Michigan is right on. The Kalamazoo River, which was 38 miles contaminated by a tar sands spill four years ago, that has yet to be cleaned up to this day. It is a real mess and it's harder to get up than regular crude, putting about a third solvent into that pipeline does make it more explosive, does make it more hazardous and harder to clean up.
REHMWhat about that, Nicolas?
LORISWell, you're talking about putting it in a state-of-the-art pipeline that has met 57 specific requirements for this pipeline. There's 10,000 sensors equipped along the pipeline to notice any detection in volume minimizing or if there's any type of -- it's getting cold or any potential for leaks. So, again, I think the State Department has done its homework.
LORISThe environmentalists who have looked at this pipeline have done their homework and have said that leaks can be minimized throughout this pipeline's route.
REHMAll right. And to Dave in Birmingham, Alabama, you're on the air.
DAVEThank you for taking my call this morning.
DAVEJust want to bring out when this whole idea was first pitched, it was pitched as energy security for America and now most everybody understands this is gonna be shipped to the Gulf and put on boats overseas. Besides that risk, I think the media should be more focused on the renewable resources program going right now. All you hear about is Solyndra going under. But I believe that particular program is 30 million taken -- 30 million in the black now because of their investments.
DAVEBut you don't hardly ever hear about that anymore in the mainstream media.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Bob Deans.
DEANSYeah, you know, we're at a crossroads, Diane, where we can fuel our economy with the 21st century energy solutions or we can go back to the days of old dirty fossil fuels. And Dave is exactly right. Diane, right now, today in America, there are 3.5 million Americans working in a clean energy economy and a more sustainable economy building the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and work places, putting up wind and solar equipment.
DEANSThat's where we need to be focused, not going backwards and anchoring our future to the dirty fossil fuels of the past.
REHMAll right. To Athens, Ohio. Hi there, Lois.
LOISHi. I'm interested in the geography. I'm looking at a map and Alberta is north of Montana. How does the oil get over to North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska and this line? Also, I heard last night on TV people from the Lakota tribe in South Dakota, there's a huge reservation there, and they say they're gonna go to war if they try to take the land for the pipeline to cross. And I don't understand how if it's already getting to Nebraska it would be crossing South Dakota again or whatever.
LOISHow does that pipeline thing work?
DEANSWell, Lois, you're right. If you look at the map, you see the problem that they're facing. They can't get to oil to market without building this pipeline and the Lakota people are right to be worried. After all, the Cree nations right there in Alberta have recently found out from a study from the University of Manitoba that they have increased rates of cancer due to the horrendous toxicity in the watershed that's consequential to this tar sands development.
DEANSIt's a terrible situation for the First Nations people and the Lakota are right to be concerned.
REHMHow did the planner survive on the geography of this pipeline, Coral?
DAVENPORTI'm not sure. I mean, if you look at a map of the existing pipeline, it goes from the Alberta tar sands east across Canada and then straight down through Montana. And then, the proposal is to kind of cross that and do a diagonal as well, going from Canada down to Nebraska. So there will be actually two routes.
DAVENPORTOne which is already built and the one that's proposed would be a diagonal. So if you look at the whole thing when it's done, it will look like a triangle and the diagonal is the one that they're proposing to build now.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Dallas, Tx. Bruce, you're on the air.
BRUCEYes, ma'am, good morning, Diane.
BRUCEAn earlier caller addressed my concern about the dilution and heating of the oil in order for it to flow freely through the pipeline. But benzene is one of the chemicals that is used, which is highly toxic. And when you reach the terminus in Port Arthur or wherever, then once again those chemicals must be removed and then you create another environmental problem because you have to dispose of the benzene and the other chemicals.
BRUCEAnd anyway, that was my main point, but also something Nicolas said earlier about TransCanada and responsibility for spills. TransCanada does not contribute to the fund for cleanup and from what I have read, they would not be liable if there is a problem.
REHMThat’s interesting. Nicolas, do you want to respond?
LORISWell, I don't know if they contribute to the fund or not, but I think any company that's operating in the United States should be held liable and they should prove that they can do so before even building the pipeline and I think that's why we need a new liability system for energy activities broadly to show that these companies can pay for accidents if they cause any.
REHMWhat happens to the benzene that's disposed of at the end of the line, Bob?
DEANSWell, presumably, it would be put in storage. I just don't know the answer to that. But benzene is a carcinogen and it's a very toxic chemical and it's part of the problem. And I think, you know, the issue that was raised earlier about energy security, we know the route to energy security is not to deepen our addiction to oil, but to diversify our energy supplies and learn how to do more with less waste.
REHMTo Long Island, New York. Hi, George, you're on the air.
GEORGEThank you for taking my call.
GEORGEYou know, it struck me as interesting that the first issue that the Republicans brought to bear here and they're not even a majority yet is this pipeline. I mean, the pipeline is not gonna reduce gas prices so it's not gonna give relief to the middle class. It's not gonna help the economy so it looks more like a political payback of, you know, campaign donations.
DAVENPORTOne objective that will be achieved by the Republicans putting this on President Obama's desk right away is that it will put the president in a really difficult position. He'll be either forced to veto it or forced to, you know, try to come up with some kind of bargaining. So I think it is very political.
REHMBut at the same time, wasn’t it Mary Landrieu who was pushing to get this on the floor, not necessarily Republicans?
LORISYeah, that's right. And I think she brought it up because the pipeline does have broad bipartisan support and you had a lot of former Obama officials in support of this pipeline. Hillary Clinton was inclined to approve the pipeline. You had former secretary of interior Ken Salazar calling it a win-win and you had former secretary of energy, Steven Chu saying this decision is not a scientific one. It's purely a political one.
REHMAll right. To Larry in West Baldwin, Maine. Hi.
LARRYGood morning. It's a bright sunny day here in the great state of Maine.
REHMThat's great. Glad to hear it.
LARRYOkay. But compared to a lot of the output of the United States. But the one point that I want to ask about is that I have not heard any discussion at all in regard to why not increase, build more in the way of refineries in the upper Midwest, such as around the Wisconsin, Minnesota, Chicago area, et cetera, where I understand that that would bring the need for transporting the crude oils from Canada much closer to the source and also it would create jobs in that area up there.
REHMWhat do you think, Bob?
DEANSLarry, I'd take it one step further and say, look at where these tar sands are and why aren't there more refineries in Canada to address it. And the answer is the Canadian people understand the problem. They don't want it any more than we do. Let's partner with our Canadian friends and do what's right.
REHMWhat do you think, Larry?
LORISI think that...
LORISThat's okay. I think that refineries are very expensive to build. They got to go through a lot of regulatory hurdles to get built and just the fact that we don’t really need more refining capacity in the United States, it makes more economic sense to send it down to the Gulf Coast who are already handled to equip this heavy crude that they get from Mexico and Venezuela and would like to get more from Canada.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's see. Here's an email from Luke. "How come people on the right who claim to be the party of individual property rights don't recognize that this pipeline is dependent on seizure of thousands of people's property without their consent for the profit of a private entity?" Nicolas.
LORISYeah, that's one of the most interesting things about this pipeline. And it certainly isn't anything new. I think we've had this with a lot of pipelines. We've had it with highways, all of these things, and it really, you know, gets to the point of how do we get things built without, you know, disrespecting the rights of private property owners. And, you know, if we had all of these objections, we probably would have a very difficult time building anything in this country because there's going to be people who are upset.
LORISAnd that said, I think companies need to work better with people to make sure that their needs are met and that they satisfy the needs and rights of property owners.
REHMLet's take a caller here in Washington D.C. Hi, Jason.
JASONHi, Diane. How are you?
JASONGood. Quick question for Coral, which I will proceed very briefly with a little bit of a framing comment. Understanding that sort of the State Department has a natural role to play in evaluating acts of international commerce, you know, related to the national interest, I sort of assumed that the environmental analysis would be contingent on something a little bit more local or domestic like, for example a watershed or a certain endangered species.
JASONThe analysis that the environmental damage, you know, is related to global warming which in the aggregate will harm the country seems to be ideologically excessive. My question for Coral -- and I realize I tipped my hat in a partisan way there a little bit. My question for Coral is what relevant statutes or executive orders is the State Department using when it makes these evaluations?
DAVENPORTSo under the Constitution, the State Department makes this decision as to whether or not such a project is in national interest and beyond that, there is no definition. The State Department, the administration can decide what constitutes national interest and both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama have said, you know, national interest can include the project's environmental impact, economic impact, national security, relations with Canada. Anything can come under the frame of national interest.
DAVENPORTAnd so the president, himself, has chosen to include this as part of the definition. The president said in this definition of national interest, I have decided I'm going to include whether or not this does or does not contribute to climate change. I make that the definition of national interest. However, as part of the State Department's review, they have looked at the economic, national security interests. Their review is 11 volumes long. It's hundreds and hundreds of pages and it requires input by eight other agencies, including commerce, EPA, defense department, several other agencies also weigh in on this.
DEANSImportant to note that this is an executive order that was put in place by George W. Bush. That's how this process got set up. And the president is rightly looking at national security.
REHMDo you believe, in the end, President Obama will veto this if the Senate does pass it?
DEANSI think if he's listened to this show, he's going to 'cause we've heard from your listeners. This is not about jobs. It's not about security. It's not about helping us at the pump. It's about big oil (word?)
REHMQuickly, what do you think, Nicolas?
LORISI think he's run out of excuses to veto the pipeline, given the economic benefits and the minimal environmental impact.
REHMAll right. Nicolas Loris of The Heritage Foundation, Coral Davenport of the New York Times and Bob Deans of The Natural Resources Defense Council. Thank you all.
LORISThank you, Diane.
DAVENPORTThank you so much, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Diane talks with Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic. She wrote a story in July called "The Prophecies of Q."
Diane talks with Mary Ziegler, professor at Florida State University College of Law and author of "Abortion in America: A Legal History, Roe v. Wade to the Present."
Diane talks with election law professor Edward Foley about what we're seeing and what to watch for as we approach the November 3rd general election.