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Keystone Pipeline Fight: Insignificant 'Sideshow' To EPA Power-Plant Limits?

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Oil well (photo by John Hill)

Oil well (photo by John Hill)

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In the ongoing battles over renewable versus hydrocarbon energy--and the associated public policies, advocacy, and media coverage--the Keystone XL Pipeline has emerged as a flashpoint.

Now a long analysis in The New York Times, along with associated commentary elsewhere, argues that Keystone's increase in greenhouse-gas emissions would be remarkably small compared to the potential for reductions by new EPA regulations on U.S. powerplant emissions.

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The proposed pipeline would allow Canadian energy firms to pipe oil extracted from tar sands in the Western part of the country across the border to supply U.S. refineries.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

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Analyses suggest that it would contribute 18.7 million metric tons of additional carbon to the atmosphere annually.

But upcoming EPA regulations on existing power plants would remove 200 to 500 million metric tons of carbon per year--making those regulations far more important overall.

A summary of the argument in New York Intelligencer quotes Kevin Book, founder of the energy-analysis firm ClearView Energy Partners, saying, "the Keystone Pipeline is a rounding error" compared to the impact of those regulations.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not yet indicated whether he will approve the pipeline, a key demand of energy-independence advocates.

The delay is causing increasing friction in U.S.-Canadian foreign relations, with the full weight of Canada's diplomacy being brought to bear to get the pipeline approved.

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If Obama ultimately approves the pipeline, suggests the Intelligencer, it might provide some political cover for the tougher EPA regulations--which would matter much more in the long run.

The questions of what's important and what's not in reducing greenhouse gases are complex, and very often reduced to political talking points.

But the articles and analyses suggest that understanding the projected numerical impacts of various alternatives may be an under-appreciated skill that all parties might do well to focus on.

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