Friday, March 1, 2013

President Obama Makes a Statement on the Sequester   

Published on Mar 1, 2013
President Obama delivers a statement about moving forward in light of severe budget cuts that will start to take effect today, and answers questions from the press. March 1, 2013.

Keystone XL Pipeline Does Little Environmental Harm, US Finds By Devin Dwyer
Mar 1, 2013 6:19pm

gty oil sands mi 130301 wblog Keystone XL Pipeline Does Little Environmental Harm, US Finds

An oil tar sands processing facility in Alberta, Canada. Jimmy Jeong/Bloomberg via Getty Images. 

The Obama administration today moved one step closer to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, concluding in a draft environmental impact statement that the project would not accelerate global greenhouse gas emissions or significantly harm the natural habitats along its route.

The report, done by the State Department, suggests that the proposed 875-mile pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, has cleared a significant hurdle on its way to President Obama’s desk for final consideration.

“The approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.,” said Kerri-Ann Jones, the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

The State Department, which conducted the study because the pipeline would cross an international boundary, also suggested in a voluminous report that impacts on air, water and landscape would be minimal.

The agency found it “very unlikely” that the pipeline would affect water quality in any of the four aquifers through which it crossed. It also concluded that along one part of the proposed route, in the case of a large-scale oil spill, “these impacts would typically be limited to within several hundred feet of the release source, and would not affect groundwater.”

Government analysts found that Keystone XL would each year produce the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions of 620,000 passenger cars operating for a year. But they concluded that whether or not the pipeline is approved, those emissions would still likely occur because of fuels produced and obtained from other sources.

The release of the draft report reignited debate over climate change and President Obama’s pledge to do something about it.

Environmental activists have been lobbying Obama hard to block the plan — some recently chaining themselves to the White House fence in protest. Many environmental groups see rejection of the pipeline as a litmus test for whether Obama intends to fulfill his pledge from the second inaugural.

“It seems like Secretary Kerry and the State Department missed President Obama’s State of the Union and inaugural address,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “The draft SEIS reads like an on-ramp to justify the Keystone XL pipeline project. We cannot solve the climate crisis when the State Department fails to understand the basic climate, environmental and economic impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Pica and other environmental advocates have called the pipeline a “carbon bomb,” increasing the use of tar sands oil, which is one of the dirtiest to produce and transport.

The oil industry, some members of Congress, and the nation’s major labor unions, which stand to gain construction jobs with the pipeline’s approval, all welcomed the news.

“No matter how many times KXL is reviewed, the result is the same: no significant environmental impact,” said Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry lobby.

“The latest impact statement from the State Department puts this important, job-creating project one step closer to reality,” he said. “The last approval needed is by President Obama, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible.”

Canada, which has long lobbied the U.S. for approval of the deal, also hailed the State Department’s report as a step forward.

“The Keystone XL pipeline will create tens of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border,” said Canadian natural resources minister Joe Oliver.

In 2011, the Obama administration came close to approving an earlier version of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have stretched from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The deal was tabled after a dispute over the portion of the route through Nebraska, though officials later green-lighted construction of the southern portion of the pipeline.

Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota have now all signed-off on the pipeline plan and their governors and congressional delegations have been calling on Obama to follow suit.

One potential wild card: new Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime advocate of action to combat climate change. He will play an influential role in finalizing the department’s review and recommendation before presenting it to Obama, who has said he’ll make the final call.

The sequester and the debt ceiling, explained

President Obama and lawmakers are facing several important fiscal deadlines. One is to avoid the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts included in sequestration and another is raising the country’s debt ceiling. Here is a look at some of the issues involved in these two fiscal challenges.

Sequester [chart 1]

If Congress and Obama can’t reach a deal to avoid sequestration, then the country would see budget cuts of $1.2 trillion through 2021. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that the defense cuts would be a “disaster.” But if you look at this graph, the blow isn't as bad as the military has faced in the past. Even if the sequestration was implemented, the drop in spending would be less than the military experienced after the Korean, Vietnam or Cold wars.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies

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More analysis from Wonkblog

Sequester [chart 2]

Nonetheless, defense spending will take the hardest hit in the sequester — relative to its current share of the total budget, according to this chart. In other words, even though defense is 17 percent of the budget, it is nearly half of the cuts contained in the sequester. (What’s worth nothing, though, is that nondefense discretionary spending takes a similarly disproportionate hit; it’s just a smaller portion of the budget than defense is.)

Heritage Foundation

Sequester  [chart 3]

Here’s a look at the sequester-cuts situation as a whole. The big-ticket takeaway is that there is huge variation in how the sequester affects different parts of government. Some programs will see their budgets cut by 10 percent, others by just 2 percent. None of these cuts, by the way, apply to any program that was specifically exempted from the sequester.

Sarah Kliff / The Washington Post

Debt ceiling  [chart 4]

Another fiscal issue that keeps coming up is whether to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. As you can see from this chart, the United States has increased the limit numerous times since the mid-’90s. But earlier this year, Congress voted to suspend the debt limit until May 19, a move that, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, will increase the ceiling about $450 billion. This graph shows how this increase compares with the others. Congress, however, will have to revisit the debt-limit debate in August when the country could default on its debt if the ceiling is not raised again.

Dylan Matthews / The Washington Post

Debt ceiling  [chart 5]

Another consequence of not raising the debt limit is the nation could enter another recession. This in turn would increase the deficit as this graph shows.

Dylan Matthews / The Washington Post

Debt ceiling  [chart 6]

The deficit would also increase because interests rates would spike. Hitting the debt ceiling is basically the United States shouting to the world, “We’re in trouble!” The longer the United States is over the limit, the greater the risk that the country will have to stop paying out interest on debt, which constitutes default. So hitting the debt ceiling would cause a big spike in interest rates, which in turn means larger interest payments later on, increasing the deficit.

Terry Zivney and Richard Marcus

Federal deficit  [chart 7]

Jed Graham calls this "the deficit chart that should embarrass deficit hawks": "Here’s a pretty important fact that virtually everyone in Washington seems oblivious to: The federal deficit has never fallen as fast as it’s falling now without a coincident recession," he writes for Investor’s Business Daily. This is true whether or not the sequester goes into effect.

Congressional Budget Office; Office of Management and Budget