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EPA Confirms Keystone XL Fails President's Climate Test

Climate

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drove what may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in comments released today, linking the project to an expansion of the tar sands and a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

As the Administration concludes its review of Keystone XL, the U.S. EPA's critique of the proposed tar sands pipeline exposes the project's impact on climate—an issue that President Obama said would be a threshold issue in deciding whether to allow the project to move forward. The EPA's letter highlights the Department of State's conclusion that at prices between $65 to $75 a barrel, "the higher transportation costs of shipment by rail 'could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels—possibly in excess of the capacity of the proposed project.'" Observing that the development of tar sands represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA's comments lay the basis for Keystone XL's rejection as failing the President's climate test.

In light of the EPA's comments today, it is worth revisiting the terms of President Obama's climate test for the embattled tar sands pipeline:

"But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation's interests. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

—President Barack Obama, Speech at Georgetown University, June 25, 2013

The EPA's comments lay a clear framework for Keystone XL's rejection on the basis of this test. In addition to highlighting the likelihood that Keystone XL would have a substantial impact on tar sands expansion:

"[T]he Final SEIS makes clear that, compared to reference crudes, development of oil sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions."

—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Comment letter to the State Department, Feb. 2

As the Administration enters the final stages of the National Interest Determination process for Keystone XL, the EPA urged decision-makers to give more weight to Department of State's low oil price scenario where "construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production, and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, over what would otherwise occur."

EPA's assessment of Keystone XL underscores a fact that has become increasingly clear—the proposed tar sands would enable expansion of tar sands development which in turn will lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It is now clear that Keystone XL fails the President's climate test and should be rejected.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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