95 Scientists and Economists Call on Obama to Veto Keystone XL Pipeline Bill


Yesterday, 95 scientists and economists released a letter urging President Obama and Secretary Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, calling it a "step in the wrong direction" if the Obama administration is serious about addressing climate change. The letter draws upon comments President Obama made at Georgetown University in June 2013 when he stated, "allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." As the scientists and economists confirm in the letter, "...now more than ever, evidence shows that Keystone XL will significantly contribute to climate change."

As the letter explains:

"[T]he [pipeline's] potential incremental annual emissions of 27.4 MMTCO 2e is more than the emissions that seven coal-fired power plants emit in one year. And over the 50-year expected lifespan of the pipeline, the total emissions from Keystone XL could amount to as much as 8.4 billion metric tons CO2e. These are emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy."

Furthermore, "[a]s the main pathway for tar sands to reach overseas markets, the Keystone XL pipeline would cause a sizable expansion of tar sands production and also an increase in the related greenhouse gas production." Given that tar sands produce more greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycle than conventional oils, any expansion of the tar sands would be detrimental to efforts to stave off the worst of the climate change scenarios.

The letter released yesterday follows up from an April 2014 letter from scientists and economists that also articulated Keystone XL's detrimental impact on climate change mitigation. That letter, like this one, called on Obama and Kerry to reject the project. Since last April, the case for rejection has only strengthened.

In January, the Nebraska Supreme Court's decision confirmed the pipeline's planned route, which re-initiated the State Department's National Interest Determination process. In this process, the State Department, in consultation with eight other agencies, considers factors like environmental concerns, foreign policy, and cultural impacts to determine whether the proposed project is in the national interest. In its comments to the State Department released last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote that tar sands is far more fossil fuel intensive than conventional oil and that, given low oil prices, there would likely be no economically viable alternative means for transporting tar sands to the U.S. Once the State Department makes its determination, Secretary Kerry will recommend his decision to President Obama. Obama will then make the final decision on whether Keystone XL should be rejected or approved.

In addition, since the April letter, oil prices have plummeted, making Keystone XL's potential impact on climate change even more pronounced. As the EPA noted in its commentary, the transportation of tar sands by rail is not an inevitable, or possibly not even a feasible, alternative to a pipeline. As the State Department concluded in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), were oil prices to fall to between $65 and $75 a barrel, the fact that rail transport is more expensive "could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels—possibly in excess of the capacity of the proposed project."Currently oil prices are between $50 and $60 per barrel.

Nevertheless, even were oil prices to rebound, the signatories of today's letter state, Keystone XL would still have a substantial negative impact on global climate change.

The slew of prominent scientists and economists from across the U.S. and Canada who stress Keystone XL's implications for climate change include Nobel laureates, fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, and, yes, Bill Nye. The following is a small sample of the signatories:

  • Dr. Philip W. Anderson, who won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics alongside Sir Nevill Francis Mott and John Hasbrouck van Vleck. They won the prize "for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems."
  • Dr. Kenneth J. Arrow, who won the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics alongside John Hicks "for their pioneering contributions to general economic equilibrium theory and welfare theory." Dr. Arrow also received the National Medal of Science in 2004—the nation's highest scientific honor—for his contributions to the field of economics and has served as a convening lead author for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments.
  • Numerous lead authors and coordinating lead authors for United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports.
  • Fellows of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) including Dr. James McCarthy, Dr. Richard Norgaard, and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, and Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) including Dr. Mark Jaccard and Dr. Lawrence Dill.
  • Winners of Heinz Awards in the Environment, and in the Human Condition—including Dr. Gretchen Daily, Drs. Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Dr. George Woodwell, Dr. James Hansen, and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer.
  • Winners of the Volvo Environment Prize, which is awarded for "Outstanding innovations or scientific discoveries," including Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who won it jointly with John Holdren (now President Obama's senior advisor on science and technology issues) in 1993; Dr. George Woodwell (2001), and Gretchen Daily (2012).
  • Dr. David Keith, 2006 winner of Canadian Geographic's "Environmentalist of the Year"—who is both a Harvard Professor and President of a Calgary, Alberta company that works on ways to capture carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere.

This letter further confirms the growing evidence that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be an environmental catastrophe. If President Obama and Secretary Kerry are serious about addressing climate change, they should take the letter's warnings to heart and lay the issue of Keystone XL to rest by rejecting the project.


Tell President Obama: Veto Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

Robert Redford: Fossil Fuels Need to Stay in the Ground, Renewable Energy Is the Future

EPA Confirms Keystone XL Fails President’s Climate Test

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A. Battenburg / Technical University of Munich

By Sarah Kennedy

Algae in a pond may look flimsy. But scientists are using algae to develop industrial-strength material that's as hard as steel but only a fraction of the weight.

Read More Show Less
Variety of fermented food korean traditional kimchi cabbage and radish salad. white and red sauerkraut in ceramic plates over grey spotted background. Natasha Breen / REDA&CO / Universal Images Group / Getty Image

By Anne Danahy, MS, RDN

Even if you've never taken probiotics, you've probably heard of them.

These supplements provide numerous benefits because they contain live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which support the healthy bacteria in your gut (1, 2, 3, 4).

Read More Show Less

Singapore will become the first country in the world to place a ban on advertisements for carbonated drinks and juices with high sugar contents, its health ministry announced last week. The law is intended to curb sugar consumption since the country has some of the world's highest diabetes rates per capita, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less

A typical adult takes around 20,000 breaths per day. If you live in a megacity like Beijing, with many of those lungfuls you're likely to inhale a noxious mixture of chemicals and pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Fred Stone holds his brown swiss cow Lida Rose at his Arundel dairy farm on March 18 after a press conference where he spoke about PFAS chemical contamination in his fields. Gregory Rec / Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

By Susan Cosier

First there was Fred Stone, the third-generation dairy farmer in Maine who discovered that the milk from his cows contained harmful chemicals. Then came Art Schaap, a second-generation dairy farmer in New Mexico, who had to dump 15,000 gallons of contaminated milk a day.

Read More Show Less
Protesters attend the 32nd annual Fur-Free Friday demonstration on Nov. 23, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. Ella DeGea / Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that that bans the sale and manufacture of fur products in the state. The fur ban, which he signed into law on Saturday, prohibits Californians from selling or making clothing, shoes or handbags with fur starting in 2023, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Watchfield Solar Park in England. RTPeat / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Simon Evans

During the three months of July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1TWh from fossil fuels, the analysis shows.

Read More Show Less
A demonstrator waves an Ecuadorian flag during protests against the end of subsidies to gasoline and diesel on Oct. 9 in Quito, Ecuador. Jorge Ivan Castaneira Jaramillo / Getty Images

The night before Indigenous Peoples' Day, an Indigenous-led movement in Ecuador won a major victory.

Read More Show Less