The Corner

Regulatory Policy

Keystone XL Cancellation Shows Why ‘Pro-science’ Can’t Be an Agenda

A depot used to store pipes for the planned Keystone XL pipeline in Gascoyne, N.D., in 2017. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)

“In this house, we believe,” among other things, “science is real,” reads the sign in front of your most insufferable neighbor’s house. The idea is to signal sophistication and allegiance to the Party of Science. Your most insufferable neighbor wants everyone driving past his house to know that he isn’t one of those slack-jawed Neanderthals he reads about in the New York Times from far-out places like central Pennsylvania or South Jersey. No, he’s pro-science, and he voted for Biden and wrote a stemwinder of a Facebook post back in March praising the president when he announced, “Science is back.”

Your most insufferable neighbor was also happy when Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline project back in January. At long last, TC Energy, the Calgary-based energy company constructing Keystone XL, threw in the towel yesterday and announced it was abandoning the project. Rather than wait out another American presidential administration and hope the next one would allow it, TC Energy is cutting its losses and moving on.

The executive order President Biden issued to cancel Keystone XL, titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” was issued on the first day of his administration. Despite the title, the justification given for canceling the pipeline project was not primarily about science. The order references a 2015 State Department report that found that “the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the U.S. national interest.” The interests of the State Department are primarily diplomatic, and it was concerned that “approval of the proposed pipeline would undermine U.S. climate leadership by undercutting the credibility and influence of the United States in urging other countries to take ambitious climate action.” The executive order’s section on Keystone XL concludes:

Our domestic efforts must go hand in hand with U.S. diplomatic engagement. Because most greenhouse gas emissions originate beyond our borders, such engagement is more necessary and urgent than ever. The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.

Biden is making a political argument, not a scientific one. That’s all well and good. He is a politician. But it seems segments of the Left have fooled themselves into thinking politicians make decisions based on science. They pretty much never do, and for good reason.

Take the question of Keystone XL. Scientists say that climate change poses a threat to the planet. Scientists have done countless studies demonstrating that in various ways, whether they look at sea levels, temperatures, greenhouse gases, etc. Scientists have found that the Alberta tar-sands oil that Keystone XL would have transported is especially bad for the environment.

Scientists also work for energy companies. ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, et al. are some of the largest employers of scientists in the world (and they pay them fantastically). To find oil reserves (which is a lot harder than you might think), they need earth scientists. Pipeline engineering, too, is a highly technical scientific field. Scientists developed technology to detect minor pipeline leaks from outer space, which is actually much faster than detecting them from Earth. The technology uses satellites that analyze the vegetation near pipelines and detect changes in vegetation growth that would indicate hydrocarbon leakage.

If your political position is “pro-science,” what do you do? There are brilliant scientists doing outstanding work on climate issues, and there are brilliant scientists doing outstanding work for petroleum and pipeline companies. That’s why Biden’s executive order didn’t use “pro-science” reasoning and instead made it about diplomacy. Science is of very limited use in making this decision because it doesn’t care about politics. Water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212 degrees no matter who’s president.

Your most insufferable neighbor isn’t pro-science; he’s pro-Democrat. That’s perfectly fine. He’s allowed to be pro-Democrat, and the politics of the Keystone XL project are complicated and worth discussing in depth. The issue is that by believing he’s pro-science, it follows that the people who disagree with him are anti-science. You don’t have arguments with people who are anti-science because they can’t be reasoned with. Thus why he is your most insufferable neighbor.

Science is real. Politics is real, too. “Pro-science” isn’t enough to inform decisions.


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