- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2013

John F. Kerry long has been a vocal crusader against climate change in the Senate, and in the process the Massachusetts Democrat became a hero to the environmental movement.

Now as the incoming secretary of state, Mr. Kerry is in a position to deliver one of the movement’s biggest victories in decades: drive a stake through the heart of the massive Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline project.

Opponents of the ambitious project already are putting pressure on Mr. Kerry, who vacated his Senate seat Wednesday after being confirmed earlier this week to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat.

The $7 billion pipeline, which would transport oil from Canadian shale fields through the U.S. to Gulf Coast refineries, now is waiting only for approval from the Obama administration.

Last week, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, signed off on the pipeline’s route through his state, clearing the last hurdle outside of Washington. He did so only after the pipeline route was revised to avoid the most sensitive environmental areas in his state.

The proposal is now under review at the State Department, which has the lead role because the pipeline crosses an international border. Environmentalists are banking on Mr. Kerry to make sure the pipeline dies there.

“Now, one of the strongest champions for climate action in the Senate will be our nation’s top climate negotiator. We are excited that he will bring his strong credentials on climate to the critical decisions facing our planet, including increasing access to affordable clean energy options and stopping the expansion of dirty tar sands,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, arguably the most powerful environmental group in the nation.

Given Mr. Kerry’s past statements, including equating the threat of climate change with a nuclear-armed Iran, environmentalists have good reason to be optimistic.

Peter LaFontaine, an energy policy advocate at the National Wildlife Federation, told Inside Climate News that having Mr. Kerry as head of the State Department “is a good sign.”

“Obviously there are other people in the president’s ear on this. It’s great to have Kerry at the table, too,” Mr. LaFontaine added.

The Natural Resources Defense Council called Mr. Kerry “a champion for action against climate change” and expressed “great confidence” in him, given his record on the subject.

Former colleagues in Congress, however, continue to speak out. Nearly 150 members of the House, including 14 Democrats, sent a letter to President Obama this week, urging him to approve the pipeline immediately.

But other pipeline supporters fear that the president, no longer concerned with winning elections, will stop the pipeline as payback to environmental groups who helped get him re-elected and helped form a foundation of support for the past four years.

“You cannot underestimate the strength of the environmental lobby and how much power this administration has ceded to them,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, a nonprofit trade group representing more than 400 oil and gas companies in the western United States.