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Sep 232011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

If you’re a supporter of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline set to carry tar sands oil across the American heartland this next year, pipeline owner, TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute and a fleet of oil industry lobbyists have got your back.

Tar sands pit in Utah.

But if you’re opposed to the project, where do you take your sentiments? In Abraham Lincoln’s day, you would have ridden into DC on a passenger train, marched into the White House during public reception days and complained to the Prez himself.

That seems so quaint 150 years later.

And yet, today’s technology is once again allowing US citizens to knock directly on the White House doors, virtually.

If you consider the Keystone project to be an environmental abomination as many activists do (and we think they have a few good points), you can vent your discontent in a petition to President Obama at the “We the People” webpage at WhiteHouse.gov.

The “Reject the Keystone Pipeline” petition has gathered about 500 signatures since its posting this week. And considering that some 1,500 people were arrested earlier this month protesting the pipeline in person at the White House, it’s a good bet that the petition will meet its 5,000 signature goal.

We think that just seeing the tar sands extraction area in Alberta, Canada, tells the story. Forests are scraped from the earth to mine this sticky, last-resort oil. The production process alone releases three times the carbon emissions of regular oil drilling; the transport of the more corrosive bitumen that’s extracted risks polluting the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to the US breadbasket.

How much effect this, or any, petition to the White House will have cannot be known. Conventional wisdom holds that the pipeline will win approval, because the  early word from the State Department has been positive. State must approve the project for it to go forward because the pipeline would cross the international border from Alberta to Montana.

Still, this week, Friends of the Earth disclosed emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showing that TranCanada has been pressuring the US State Department to approve the pipeline and scrambling for inside info to tailor its arguments. The oil company hired a former assistant campaign manager for Hillary Clinton to lobby for the project, and the emails show that he’s been working all his personal ties to gain any advantage.

This sounds intriguing. But it’s straight from the standard insider playbook in Washington, where lobbyists make good money parlaying their ties to influential people, or people who know influential people, or even people who may know those in influence.

To fight this sort of thing, you’d have to sign a different petition at We The People, the one asking to abolish “personhood” for corporations. That’s a reference to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission that held corporations could contribute as much money as they wanted to politicians, thereby magnifying corporate influence in Washington.

The Supreme Court said in Citizens United that corporations were persons, too, with a right to give money to politicians. Congress, the court ruled, could not restrict corporations from exercising political “speech” via spending their money in this way.

So getting rid of “personhood” for companies would be a first step toward restoring the influence of regular voters, potentially.

The problem, however, is that the White House doesn’t have the authority to simply roll back Supreme Court’s rulings, for obvious reasons. And the ruling specifically calls out Congress, telling lawmakers that restricting corporate givers would violate “their” constitutional rights. And aside from that admonition, why would Congressional representatives and senators, the beneficiaries of this newly opened river of cash, want to cut off their own campaign spigot?

It would appear that the only possible way to level the playing field for regular folks would be if Congress were to enact campaign spending limits that applied to everyone.

Here’s betting that a denial for the Keystone pipeline is more likely than that


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