And both involve a complicated, heated dispute over how to measure the greenhouse-gas footprint of big energy projects. With Keystone, activists' arguments that the project is a disaster for the climate turn on whether the pipeline would be a catalyst for expansion of carbon-heavy oil-sands projects in Alberta. A recent State Department analysis basically said the stuff will get developed one way or the other, making Keystone quite unlikely to create a spike in emissions. With gas exports, environmentalists are pressing Obama administration regulators to look beyond the huge carbon advantage gas holds over coal when burned as a power source. They argue that leaks of methane (a potent climate-cooker) from gas wells and distribution, the carbon footprint of the energy it takes to supercool the gas for liquefaction, the shipping itself, and the burning of the fuel abroad all add up to an emissions profile just as bad as coal's.
But despite all that, there's one critical difference between the two debates.
Keystone is an all-or-nothing battle that will, eventually, come to a head: Either the project will be permitted or it won't. After all the lobbying from both sides, the White House will have to make a single, highly charged choice.
Gas exports, in comparison, are a multifront battle, and that presents a challenge for green groups. "You don't have ... a single decider. It doesn't end up on the president's desk," said Ross Hammond of Friends of the Earth. "It is, for sure, more challenging to oppose these without having that sort of binary, yes-or-no decision."
In short, on Keystone, it'll be yea or nay. On gas exports, the Obama administration is wading through roughly two dozen individual export proposals stacked up at the Energy Department — a process that provides the president with a bureaucratic buffer.
The administration has thus far responded to the rhetoric on both sides with restraint. It notes that approving the current export applications would have little impact on the immediate crisis in Eastern Europe, since in most cases ships would not set sail for years. But it has also been increasingly supportive of the idea that U.S. resources are a strategic lever, and that U.S. gas is one tool available for aiding Europe.
In comments to Bloomberg, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the department might give "additional weight" to geopolitical factors when considering export projects. A senior administration official told reporters traveling with Vice President Joe Biden in Eastern Europe last week, "The United States is obviously reviewing and considering what we can and should do domestically to serve both our interests and the interests of our European partners."
And in Brussels this past Wednesday, the president himself sent an additional sign to supporters of exports, noting that the proposed U.S.-E.U. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would make it easier to send U.S. gas to Europe.