Cruder than Alberta tar sands

According to experts cited by The New York Times, President Barack Obama’s eventual decision on the Keystone XL pipeline — last week, the administration once again postponed a decision — “will have a marginal impact on global warming emissions.” The global economy releases lots of greenhouse gas — 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon in 2011. The Keystone XL pipeline would add 18.7 million metric tons. In the global greenhouse gas picture, it won’t make a dent.

To the working men and women of America, however, the project represents “a lifeline to good jobs and energy security,” according to Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America. The union, which twice endorsed Obama for president, also denounced the delay as “gutless,” “dirty” and yet another “political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country.”

The political calculation here seems to be that in November, Democrats won’t lose labor votes, as could happen if the administration killed the project outright. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates still get to benefit from the $100 million that San Francisco rich guy Tom Steyer pledged — half of it his own money, the other half from fellow liberal plutocrats — to lavish on anti-pipeline pols in the midterm elections.

Canada won’t like it. But what does Canada have that is more important than Steyer’s patronage?

Ditto the working stiffs, who want nothing more than to fill the well-paying union jobs that the pipeline would create.

If Republicans had tried to block a pipeline decision, then Beltway graybeards would have bemoaned the right’s unseemly zest for stonewalling the real work of Washington. But when Obama prevents himself from settling the Keystone question, these shills shrug and mumble. Politics, whaddayougonnado?

True believers insist that Alberta tar sand crude is dirtier than other oil — and it does produce more carbon than other sources. But industry is going to harvest the oil anyway, and somebody is going to consume all that oil.

Thus, the State Department concluded that moving Alberta’s oil through an extended pipeline would pose no net harm to the environment. Smart environmentalists understand that this is a meaningless fight.

Being a plutocrat, Steyer will not relent. He sent out an email that read: “The Keystone XL pipeline is a line in the sand that signifies whether our country has the courage, the commitment and the capacity to be a global leader in addressing the challenge of climate change before it’s too late.”

You see, it’s easy to point to the tar sands as bad for the planet. It’s not easy to tell people that consuming energy is bad for the environment and therefore they should not fly, drive or watch a flat-screen TV — especially if you bellow your anti-energy sermon from atop a mountain of hedge fund money.

There’s a guessing game in Washington. After the midterm elections, will Obama approve or kill the pipeline? Insiders have their views. But I have yet to hear anyone arguing with passion that whatever the president ultimately decides, politics will have nothing to do with it.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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