Yesterday, the State Department announced that it would delay its decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline until 2013 while it considers alternate routes. For the coalition of environmentalists, climate campaigners and anti-pipeline activists that have been protesting the pipeline for months, that decision is a victory: It could kill the project altogether.
The environmental community needed a win. Since Barack Obama took office, cap-and-trade legislation has withered, the Environmental Protection Agency’s every action has come under attack, and conservatives have done their best to brand environmentalists as job-killers. But what should they fight for now? Bill McKibben and his group 350.org, which helped led the Keystone XL fight, have asked supporters to help them figure out their next move. Here are a few ideas for steps they could ask the government to take.
Create a renewable energy standard. One of the messages Keystone protesters' messages was that the country should wean itself off carbon-heavy oil. A renewable energy standard would be the best way for the federal government to send a signal that the country should be supporting alternatives. A standard would require utilities to begin sourcing an increasing amount of their power from renewable projects.
Support wind and solar projects. This recommendation ranks high on the list of renewable energy groups like the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association. For those who shudder at any subsidies, there is the option of ending government support for all energy industries, a move which could benefit wind and solar projects by holding fossil fuels to their true costs. Maintaining wind and solar subsidies is simpler politically, though.
Update building codes. The anti-Keystone coalition joined climate campaigners with big-picture worries about tar sands’ carbon emissions and local activists concerned about the pipeline’s environmental impact. Some commentators have pointed out that this type of local activism won’t help climate campaigners when they’re pushing for clean energy projects. One of the best ways to alleviate the need for any energy project is to reduce the country’s appetite for energy by creating more energy-efficient buildings and retrofitting those already standing. Changing building codes to require efficient building design doesn't sound like the most exciting issues, but it can push whole communities towards efficiency. Those codes are often determined locally, and they’re another point where local and national interests convene.
Prioritize alternative transportation. That means bikes and trains and buses, yes, but also fuel-efficient cars and biofueled jet planes. The latest iteration of the federal transportation plan would cut back on funding for bike trails, pedestrian projects, and pretty much anything that isn’t a highway. Repaving highways creates jobs, but so does building bike lanes. Fewer cars on the road means less oil is needed—and whether it comes from Canada’s tar sands or offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the less oil the country uses, the fewer pipelines there will be to fight over in the future.