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Living on Earth: What to Expect in 2014

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CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Boston, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the 23 years Living on Earth has been on the air, there has been a growing awareness of the importance and urgency of environmental issues.

As we start a new year, we thought for this week's program we'd take time to look ahead to some of the decisions that could have massive impacts on life on this planet. And here to help us is Vermont Law School Professor Pat Parenteau. He and his colleagues have put together a list of issues and decisions to watch for 2014 and he joins us now on the line. Happy new year and welcome to Living on Earth, Professor.

PARENTEAU: Thank you, Steve. It's good to be here.

CURWOOD: So let's start at the top. What's number one on your list, Professor Parenteau?

PARENTEAU: We listed the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline as the number one issue for 2014. The President has indicated he will make that decision, and, of course, there has been a tremendous amount of attention and controversy around the pipeline, but we think in light of the fact we just passed this critical threshold of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that scientists are concerned about, we singled out the Keystone pipeline as a discrete decision that implicates where we go on climate change.   

CURWOOD: OK. What does your crystal ball say Mr. Obama does?

PARENTEAU: You know, it's a really close call. I think it's 60-40 in favor of the President disapproving the pipeline, but you'll sure get an argument from a lot of people about that. Obviously, a large number of supporters of the pipeline, including labor unions who see that at least in the short term some construction jobs. The analysis of what the pipeline would do for employment in the long run is quite modest, but the pipeline really is not going to do apparently what the American public believes it will do, which is give us, significant energy independence from imported oil from the Middle East and elsewhere. The other thing that the President said, of course, is he will not approve it if it will significantly exacerbate the climate change problem, which it will do. The extraction of this very heavy oil from very tight sands is extremely carbon intensive, so it's a definitely a major step in the wrong direction if what we're trying to do is reduce the effects of climate change.