PRESIDENT OBAMA’S rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline last week had the ring of a great victory for the environment. But even as he declared the United States a “global leader” in the transition to cleaner energy, he revealed a challenge that neither he nor his administration has confronted: “If we’re going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes,” the president said, “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground, rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
The logic is clear. If we don’t extract them, we can’t burn them. Even better, this is a change the president can actually make, without the approval of Congress. With the climate summit meeting in Paris near, and the Keystone decision fresh, the United States can truly take the lead on these fuels by stemming their production, not just their consumption.
Most climate debates have focused on cutting the use of fossil fuels. But besides a few high-profile scuffles over fuel extraction in vulnerable wild places like the offshore Arctic, political leaders have ignored fossil fuel production as a necessary piece of climate strategy.
In fact, under President Obama, oil and gas production in the United States has increased substantially. And that increase has been a major bragging point for the administration. “America is No. 1 in oil and gas,” the president boasted in his 2015 State of the Union address.