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Dec 172011

From Green Right Now Reports

Environmental advocates in Austin issued a torrent of statements today to protest the Congressional fast-tracking of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Gathering downtown, state representatives of Public Citizen, Sierra Club and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition called upon President Obama and the US State Department to stick by their previous commitment to adequately review the pipeline, a process estimated to take a year or more, and not be cornered into a 60 day review by GOP members of Congress who want the pipeline installed immediately.

The GOP proponents of the 1,700 mile Keystone pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Houston, attached the Keystone rider to an extension of the payroll tax holiday legislation, which President Obama has championed.

In this game of chicken, the Republican proponents of the pipeline, supported by the influential US oil and gas industry, are hoping that Obama will blink and sign the payroll tax legislation despite its included “poison pill”.

The Austin protesters said they want to remind the Obama Administration that it has pledged to veto just such a bill.

Their voices echoe those of other environmental groups. National leaders of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council also have called on Obama to hold firm.

The Austin activists took the opportunity to raise questions about whether the pipeline would even create the 20,000 American jobs its proponents claim it would.

“This pipeline will raise gas prices and kill jobs,” said Trevor Lovell with Public Citizen’s Texas office.

“When the State Department was reviewing this permit application in October those facts were in contention, but it has now been established that this pipeline would do more to harm the US economy than to help it.”

A study by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute, which investigated job claims made by Keystone operator TransCanada,shows that the pipeline would only create 3,000 to 4,000 temporary jobs during construction, Lovell said.

But the pipeline would hurt the economy by raising gas prices in the US Midwest, he said, because it would depress oil supplies to that area.

Public Citizen Texas director Tom “Smitty” Smith noted that the US State Department cannot do an adequate review of the pipeline in two months.

“The US State Department said on December 12th that setting an arbitrary deadline for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would not allow the department to comply with federal requirements and would result in rejection of the permit application,” Smith said in prepared remarks.

“Obama has said repeatedly that including the pipeline in the payroll tax bill would get it vetoed. It’s time for Obama and the State Department to show some spine and remain true to their word.”

Austin protesters said that the Keystone XL pipeline could imperil Texas water and air quality because the pipeline would cross the Carrizo Wilcox aquifer, the 3rd largest in Texas, which runs to the east of Austin.

“A similar pipeline built just over a year ago by TransCanada has leaked 12 times in one year, the worst record for any first year pipeline in U S History,” said Chris Wilson, also with Public Citizen. “This is in part because the heavy tar-like substance must be pumped at pressures up to 10x what would be used for typical crude oil. In 2010 another tar sands pipeline built by Enbridge spilled over 1 million gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.  Clean-up costs are over $700 million, but because tar sands is heavier than water and sinks when spilled the effort has not yet paid off and large tracts of the river remain off-limits to the public.”

Diluents mixed with the thick tar sands oil in the pipeline could pose a special threat. If benzene escaped in a spill, it could create both an air and water hazard, according to Dr. Neil Carmen, clean air program director for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club.

“In a tar sands pipeline spill Benzene easily volatilizes into the air at ambient temperatures allowing inhalation exposure to occur. Its toxicity results in immediate health effects in the low parts per billion range.  Benzene also poses a water contamination risk at low concentrations,” he said, in a statement. “These characteristics make benzene the most dangerous chemical to human health in a tar sands pipeline spill because it is a known human carcinogenic agent.”

Obama ordered review of the Keystone pipeline in November, after several large citizen protests of the project and concerns by Nebraska officials and residents that the pipeline would cross over a large portion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to 80 percent of that state’s residents. Nebraska leaders have asked for a re-routing around the aquifer, if the project moves forward.

The GOP leaders pushing the Keystone pipeline say it can be placed under construction in other states while Nebraska finds a new route. That solution, however, doesn’t address what happens if a new Nebraska route,  requiring easements from ranchers and others, were not be secured.

The Keystone XL pipeline route, initially approved by federal authorities before many even knew of the project, carried the pipeline right through the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, where the Ogallala Aquifer is close to the surface.

As the destination for the pipeline, Texas also faces potential magnified risks from Keystone XL, according to Carman.

“Tar sands bitumen contains 11-times more sulfur and nickel, 5-times more lead, and higher levels of other toxic substances (arsenic, chromium, vanadium, boron, and zinc) compared to conventional crude oil,” he said.

“The higher toxicity of tar sands bitumen will result in increased toxic emissions in refinery communities already overburdened with too much air pollution where environmental justice issues have been ignored by the state and the oil firms.”