Newly confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry, a strong advocate of addressing climate change, is being watched for his stance on the Keystone XL pipeline, even as President Barack Obama highlights environmental preservation as a priority.
Kerry met with his counterpart, Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird, on February 8, to chat about their mutual energy interests, among other things. Kerry promised a decision “soon” but did not give a real timetable.
"I can guarantee you that it will be fair and transparent, accountable, and we hope that we will be able to be in a position to make an announcement in the near term," he said at a news conference following the meeting, according to the Associated Press.
"Obviously, the Keystone XL pipeline is a huge priority for our government and the Canadian economy, and I appreciated the dialogue we had about what we could do to tackle environmental challenges together," Baird said, for his part.
They were Kerry’s first comments about Keystone XL since he was sworn in as secretary of state. The project, a $7 billion, 1,700-mile extension of an existing pipeline that runs from the Alberta oil sands in Canada, is already undergoing an environmental review begun by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Kerry garnered attention in August of last year, when the then senator compared climate change to the dangers posed by Iranian arms proliferation and drew a link between environmental stability and national security, among other issues.
"I believe that the situation we face, Mr. President, is as dangerous as any of the sort of real crises that we talk about,” said Kerry, speaking on the floor of the Senate.
“This issue actually is of as significant a level of importance, because it affects life itself on the planet,” he said. “Because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and the land depend for the relationship of the warmth of our earth and the amount of moisture that there is and all of the interactions that occur as a consequence of our climate.”
At his confirmation hearing he grouped it with other major international issues.
“American foreign policy is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development, as much as it is by any single counter terrorism initiative,” he said. “It is defined by leadership on life threatening issues like climate change, or fighting to lift up millions of lives by promoting freedom and democracy from Africa to the Americas or speaking out for the prisoners of gulags in North Korea or millions of refugees and displaced persons and victims of human trafficking. It is defined by keeping faith with all that our troops have sacrificed to secure for Afghanistan. America lives up to her values when we give voice to the voiceless.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other environmental groups lauded his confirmation and urged him to continue being an advocate for climate change concerns. As part of that, they
“If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline would boost carbon pollution tomorrow by triggering a boom of growth in the tar sands industry in Canada, and greatly increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” the NRDC said in a statement on February 6.
A coalition of 60 environmental groups along with the NRDC also asked Kerry “to help secure a global agreement to deal with the climate crisis; to reject any new or expanded infrastructure for tar sands oil, starting with the Keystone XL pipeline; and to secure funding for international climate action, particularly in developing countries and the most vulnerable communities.”
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Washington on Sunday February 17 to demand action on climate change and for an end to the Keystone XL pipeline project.