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OUR OPINION: State Department holds the Key(stone)

The columns on today's page do a great job of describing the Keystone XL pipeline's effects on North Dakota, the Midwest and the nation. Meanwhile, the outcome in Washington is likely to depend on the pipeline's effects on the world -- in other w...

Our Opinion

The columns on today's page do a great job of describing the Keystone XL pipeline's effects on North Dakota, the Midwest and the nation.

Meanwhile, the outcome in Washington is likely to depend on the pipeline's effects on the world -- in other words, on climate change.

That's because in the absence of concerns over climate change, the Keystone XL basically is just another oil pipeline. And some 55,000 miles of crude-oil trunk pipelines already crisscross America without drawing much attention or controversy.

It was concern over climate change that prompted environmentalists to seize on blocking the Keystone XL pipeline as a way to slow Canada's oil-sands development. It was concern over climate change that brought demonstrators to the White House in 2011 as President Barack Obama first approached a decision.

And it was concern over climate change - thinly disguised as worries about Nebraska's Sand Hills -- that prompted Obama to delay making the call and instead ask the State Department for a new evaluation.

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More recently, the president explicitly has said that climate-change issues will be the driving force in his go/no go decision.

"The president, in a June speech at Georgetown University in Washington, said the pipeline shouldn't be built if it's found to 'significantly exacerbate' carbon pollution," Bloomberg News has reported.

That means all eyes are on the State Department's new evaluation, which is expected in 2014.

The State Department already has conducted four such studies, and all of them reached conclusions that favored construction. The most recent declared that the pipeline and associated oil-sands development would result in "no substantive change in global (greenhouse gas) emissions."

That's partly because technology is reducing emissions from the mining of oil sands, but mostly because in the State Department's estimation, Canada is going to develop its oil sands no matter what.

So, what will the department's 2014 evaluation bring? When we know the answer to that question, we'll probably know how the president is going to decide. And that's the Keystone XL Pipeline in a nutshell.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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