Kerry to face climate test at State Dept but not Keystone

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner
Reuters Middle East

WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator John Kerry's

commitment to tackling global warming will face several tests if

he takes over as secretary of state but stopping an issue that

has become a top environmental focus - the Keystone XL pipeline

- will likely not be among them.

President Barack Obama nominated Kerry on Friday for Hillary

Clinton's job and the senator is expected to win swift Senate


Kerry has been a dedicated, long-time campaigner for action

on climate change. In 1992 he attended the first Rio Summit on

climate, which formed the framework of U.N. climate talks. In

2010, he and Senator Joe Lieberman authored a sweeping climate

bill that ultimately failed.

Kerry's wife, Theresa Heinz, champions environmental causes

as chair of The Heinz Family Philanthropies, and Kerry has

lectured on national security risks posed by climate upheaval -

from the impacts of rising seas on military bases to severe heat

on soldiers.

The approval of the TransCanada Corp's Keystone

pipeline could be one of the first items the State Department

will officially tackle if Kerry becomes secretary of state but

he is unlikely to influence the decision.

Analysts say President Barack Obama already appears to have

made up his mind on Keystone.

"We think that Obama has set the course on Keystone and it

is still poised for approval sometime next year," said Divya

Reddy, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk


Unlike some senators, Kerry has not been outspoken against

the pipeline, which will carry at least 700,000 barrels per day

as it links Alberta's oil sands to refineries and ports in

Texas. Environmentalists have battled the line because oil sands

petroleum is more carbon intensive than average crudes refined

in the United States.

The State Department is poised any day to release an

environmental assessment of the project.

"Kerry could have more of an impact advancing the climate

agenda in international talks, but it's hard to see how he can

elevate the issue in a way that makes rejection of Keystone more

likely," Reddy said.

Eileen Claussen, former assistant secretary of state for

global environment issues and a former adviser to President Bill

Clinton, said Kerry is well versed on climate issues and would

soon confront tough questions.

Breaking gridlock with China on greenhouse gas emissions and

working with the European Union to resolve disagreement over

handling gases generated by airlines are just two, said

Claussen, now president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and

Energy Solutions.

In the case of China, Kerry's experience as chairman of the

Senate Foreign Relations Committee could help him step beyond

the U.N. climate talks framework and work bilaterally with the

nation, which is the world's largest sources of greenhouse

gases, she said.

The effort to reduce airline industry emissions, a U.N.

initiative, also would come under Kerry's purview since the

talks are partly led in Washington by the State Department.

Washington has long objected to EU plans to force all

airlines to pay for the carbon emissions for flights into and

out of Europe.

The EU announced earlier this month that it would suspend

the law to allow the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation

Organization to devise a global framework to curb emissions.

Kerry could help drive an agreement in those long-stalled

talks, said Samuel Grausz, director of policy and research

at advisory firm Climate Advisers.

But Kerry is unlikely to work miracles, Grauz said.

Claussen holds out hope Kerry will break ground with China,

where demand for carbon-heavy coal is rising.

"If he strikes out and really deals with the Chinese, that's

probably the most important climate issue there is."

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