EU climate chief: Obama would send ‘strong signal’ by nixing Keystone

The European Union’s climate minister said Thursday that White House rejection of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline would be an “extremely strong signal” of the Obama administration’s second-term intent to confront global warming.

“If you had a U.S. administration that would avoid doing something that they could do, with the argument that in the time we are living in, with the climate change we are faced with, we should not do everything we can do, then I think it would be a very, very interesting global signal,” European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard told reporters.

She spoke in response to a question about how potential U.S. approval of the project might affect international climate talks, which are aimed at reaching a new global accord in 2015 that would take effect in 2020.

“To send that signal, 'well we could make this pipeline but we do not think that that is an investment that would pay off in the world we are living in because we want to, sort of, give priority also to other sources,' I think that would be an extremely strong signal from the Obama-two administration,” Hedegaard said, referring to Obama’s second term.

The comments show that the looming decision about whether to permit the project, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, is attracting attention outside the U.S. and Canada.

Hedegaard is visiting Washington for meetings with U.S. officials, lawmakers, non-governmental groups and others.

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She is meeting Friday with Obama aide Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, as well as Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change.

Hedegaard said she did not know whether Keystone would come up in talks with those two officials specifically, but said more broadly that she expected discussion of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline to surface during her visit.


“I would be surprised, when I meet with different people, if that would not formally or informally be part of the discussion, as I can see it is one of the big environmental issues right now in the U.S.,” Hedegaard said.

Environmentalists are pressing the Obama administration to reject a permit for Keystone, arguing that it will worsen climate change.

They believe building Keystone will help lock in expanded development and use of Canada’s giant oil sands deposits, a resource that’s energy-intensive to extract and already a major source of Canadian oil production.

Major business groups and a number of big unions are pressing the Obama administration to approve the project, calling it a way to create jobs and boost energy security.

Proponents of the project, in response to arguments about climate change, say expansion of oil sands development will continue regardless because producers will find other routes to market.