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Mar 042014

By Barbara Kessler
GRN Reports

This past weekend, some 500 or more students protested in Washington D.C. against the Keystone XL pipeline, which is poised to carry a thick crude oil from the tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas if it wins approval from the Obama Administration.

Students protest Keystone March 2

Students stage an oil spill “die in” at the protest in Washington March 2. (Photo: M. Scott Mahaskey @smahaskey)

About 300 of these students tied themselves to the White House fence and were arrested for blocking the walkway. They posted bond and were released.

This moment of civil disobedience seems small compared to the recent large, boisterous and sometimes violent uprisings in Ukraine and Venezuela.

Yet, it shares much with these protests around the world. When society fails to deliver hope for the future, young people grow restless.

We should listen to them.

In the US, these students are not facing the same hardships that confront their peers in Ukraine, where poverty and unemployment are driving people to the streets. But are we, in our comfortable, affluent and democratic US, inching in that direction? Unemployment remains high among many US sectors, and salaries and wealth are falling for the vast majority of Americans.

But let’s look at just one aspect that’s clouding the future, indeed, it is threatening to make salaries and bank accounts seem like the small stuff.

For 40 years, officials in the US have been saying we need to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and diversify our energy sources. This was to make the US more secure and keep the cost of living affordable.

We have made progress on both counts, though not nearly enough. Our economy continues to be fossil-fuel dependent and today many people believe that our fossil fuel habit doesn’t just imperil our geopolitical standing, it represents the potential erasure of our children’s future.

Consider the tar sands oil the students were protesting. It takes so much more energy to wring useable fuel from these dirty, strip-mined fields that it begs the question of why we’d pursue this type of energy, instead of looking toward newer, cleaner ways of powering our vehicles and infrastructure.

Tar Sands Blockade tree sitters

In 2012-13 Tar Sands Blockade, tried to stop the pipeline in Texas, once building a tree village in its path. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade)

Obviously, the oil industry still stands to profit from tar sands oil, which will pay for jobs in the mines and refineries and still earn a profit at the point of sale, most likely in fuel-strapped Asia where prices are headed up.

But at what cost? The margins for tar sands extraction are getting tighter, even before the unimaginably large environmental debt of this project is factored. Should the oil magnates have to pay for the rivers and forests they pollute, the toxic waste leaching from the lakes of waste or the cancer downstream, the profitability of tar sands oil would vanish like oil down a drain.

The big debt arrives, however, when the tar sands oil is sent out into the world, pumping a huge load of carbon emissions into the already burdened atmosphere. If just 35 percent of the Canadian tars sands are extracted and burned, it will create 361 Gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions – more than the US, a heavy carbon emitter, put into the air from 1850 to 2008, according to the World Resources Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT).

Young people see this dark horizon and how it threatens their future. But it’s a story to which those entrenched oil interests have turned a blind eye. The evidence that they’re not looking: None of the world’s major oil companies are devoting much money to developing alternative fuels and energy sources. They’re going full-speed ahead after the last reserves of oil, and even eyeing the arctic as climate change, ironically, opens this area to exploration.

Building the Keystone XL pipeline may not immediately be “game over” for the climate as the NASA climatologist Dr. James E. Hansen famously said. The earth has shown a wondrous resilience in coping by storing carbon in her oceans and forests as humans churn out more and more warming greenhouse gases. Perhaps electric cars, methane gas reductions, reforestation, coal plant closings and other bright spots on the horizon will push the tipping point a few years out.

But do we want to walk to the edge at all? Who’s crazy here? The young people chaining themselves to the White House fence, or the established interests willing to dangle them over a boiling pot?

The responsible response must be to search our souls and ask if we are failing future generations by not scrambling to do all we can to lower carbon emissions and proactively build new energy scaffolding for a peaceful, democratic future.

They say the best tree to plant is the one you planted 20 years ago, and the second best tree to have planted is the one you plant today. We can apply that thinking here, to pipelines and fossil fuels. The time to switch from business as usual is now.

Young people the world over have been marching in the streets over a common complaint, the loss of opportunities. In the US, a small band of them has drawn their line in the sand over the Keystone XL pipeline. They’re saying, please, help us rescue our future.

Let’s listen to them.
Copyright © 2014 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jul 162013

Billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management LLC, talks about today’s release of a report by the non-profit organization Consumer Watchdog that says completion of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline will raise gas prices in the U.S. Steyer speaks with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop”:

Jun 262013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now blogs

What the President said yesterday about the Keystone XL pipeline sounded sensible and straightforward:

Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf.  And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal.  That’s how it’s always been done.  But I do want to be clear:  Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. 

And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.  (Applause.)  The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.  It’s relevant. 

But what did the POTUS really mean in his climate action address? Roll the words around, toss them into the 24/7 Internet news cycle mixmaster, and you’ve got massive speculation. Obama could be indicating yes, or no, to Keystone XL.

Keystone XL official map

Map shows proposed route for Keystone XL, and the route (in orange) of a precursor Keystone pipeline completed in 2010. State Dept. approval is needed because the pipeline crosses an international border.

Like a mechanical fortune teller with an electrical short, the prez remains inscrutable on this topic.

The subtext could be, ‘Obviously this massive carbon-spewing fossil fuel project will have to be turned down,’ as some environmentalists hopefully ventured after the speech.

Or the essence could’ve been, ‘Heck, if the State Department finds a way to justify it, and the pipeline offsets its carbon emissions, then it’s all good’ — as House Speaker John Boehner and other pipeline advocates took the statement.

Here’s a sampling of how people are running in opposite directions with Obama’s remarks:

  • Forbes reporter Christopher Helman, who covers energy from Houston, maintains that Obama signaled that Keystone XL will not be approved because one cannot possibly argue that it will “significantly impact” carbon emissions worldwide:

And then there’s the word “significantly.” What does that mean? To be significant means having a noticeable effect. Now Keystone XL, as designed, would have a daily transport capacity of about 800,000 barrels of oil. Is that significant? It is to you. It’s even significant to the United States, which uses about 20 million barrels per day. But in the scheme of the whole world — and we are talking about GLOBAL warming — it’s not really significant at all. That 800,000 bpd amounts to less than 1% of the world’s daily crude oil consumption. And when you include all the daily greenhouse gas emissions from coal and natural gas and humans breathing and cow flatulence, the emissions that could be linked to Keystone XL would amount to significantly less than half of 1% of total global emissions.

  • Environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org took a view that was 360-degrees from Forbes.

It “makes me think it’s more likely the White House will reject the Keystone Pipeline, which is the biggest environmental battle in a generation–the president is a logical man, and taking two steps forward only to take two back would make no sense.”

  • Sierra Club was simpatico with McKibben. “The President’s strong commitment to using climate pollution as the standard by which Keystone XL will be decided means his decision to reject it should now be easy.  Any fair and unbiased analysis of the tar sands pipeline shows that the climate effects of this disastrous project would be significant.”
Tar sands mine PROMO

An aerial view of tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada.

Is everyone just hearing what they want to hear?

Complicating the issue is the fact that the approval process for Keystone has been corrupted by the involvement of lobbyists with personal ties to onetime Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and also to President Obama (a story that’s significant but we don’t have time to tell here; read about it at Friends of the Earth).

Over the last few years, favorable findings by the State Department have led to a dejected feeling among many environmentalists that Keystone XL is headed toward approval, despite what they see as its highly damaging environmental effects and potential toxic leakiness.

Even the EPA flagged the State Department for a once-over-lightly approach to the environmental impacts of the pipeline. EPA called out its criticisms in a letter to State officials in April.

In offering its feedback, the EPA notes that tar sands oil is “significantly more GHG intensive than other crudes, and therefore has potentially large climate impacts.”

Yet, in advising State authorities to better explore the possible outcomes of turning down the pipeline — essentially by documenting how the oil could get to market anyway via rail or Canadian pipelines — the EPA seemingly draws a road map for how State could justify the pipeline.

Up is down and down is up.

If the next State Department impact report on the project (due anytime) shows that the tar sands impact on the world is inevitable, whether or not the U.S. allows the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, that could be interpreted to mean that the pipeline’s imprint will not be “significant” (in that tar sands oil escapes to emerging markets anyway, and maybe even causes more carbon pollution enroute).

Or will it? A really buttoned-up impact statement, showing the full greenhouse gas effects of Canadian tar sands oil extraction and consumption would detail multiple negative effects on the atmosphere, starting with the loss of carbon-holding boreal forests that are being cleared for tar sands mines and ending with the burning of the refined oil in countries across the world (affecting our shared skies).

That would clearly impact climate change. Would the effect be negative enough? Count us, at this point, significantly confused.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Mar 042013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The Obama Administration released its revised environmental impact assessment on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline Friday, portraying the project as a safe and needed way to transport oil from fields in Canada and North Dakota to the US heartland and ports at Houston.

Many environmentalists, who’ve been fighting the pipeline on the grounds that tar sands are especially destructive to air and water, were taken aback and angered by the report.

The Sierra Club issued an alert to its members:  “Shockingly, the report still downplays the overall effect of the tar sands on our climate. But while the report may be outrageous malpractice, science is on our side.”

Tar sands action at White House, 400 pixels

Several times protesters have gathered in Washington to ask the Obama Administration to turn down the pipeline.

Sierra urged members to comment on the review and tell President Obama: “It’s impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously investing in one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet.”

But Sierra’s nightmare was the American Petroleum Institute’s pleasant dream.

“No matter how many times KXL is reviewed, the result is the same: no significant environmental impact,” said API Executive Vice President Marty Durbin. “The latest impact statement from the State Department puts this important, job-creating project one step closer to reality.”

Is it worth the risk?

The Keystone pipeline has become a rallying point for environmentalists because it will contribute to climate change — even more than conventional oil — and because leaks could be more harmful. Transported tar sands must be mixed with chemicals to dilute the tarry bitumen that’s extracted from the earth. This more corrosive, thick substance is more likely to breach pipelines, they say, and when it spills, it causes more harm.

A major 2010 spill involving tar sands oil near Kalamazoo, Michigan and involving a different carrier,  Enbridge, has still not been cleaned up because the oil sank to the bottom of the river.

The new State Department report found, however, that the Keystone pipeline presents only minimal risk to water resources and soil, though it did not rule out the possibility of some contamination along the route from “releases” (translated: “spills”) of oil.

Keystone Neb. Reroute per EIS 2013

The latest route for the Keystone XL, from the Canadian border to Steele City, NE.

Previous State Department reports also spoke favorably about the transcontinental pipeline, designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to port in Houston with stops in the US heartland. But the project ran into a delay in 2011 when protesters in Nebraska complained that the route imperiled the Ogallala Aquifer, a key source of irrigation and drinking water for that state and beyond. President Obama called for a new review to give Nebraskan officials time to identify a new route through the state. (Critics say the president just wanted the hot-button issue on hold during the 2012 election.)

The new Nebraska route, the State Department noted in its review, will bypass areas where the Ogallala is close to the surface, and where it does pass over the aquifer it would be “very unlikely that the proposed pipeline area would affect water quality…”

The expanded report, which also looks at environmental and economic impacts of the project, noted that the pipeline could carry 830,000 billion barrels of tar sands oil per day the Canadian tar sands fields in Alberta and the Bakken Shale region of North Dakota.

Keystone owners have told the State Department they have commitments to carry 555,000 bpd of “heavy crude” (translation: diluted tar sands oil) from Canada and 65,000 bpd of light crude from the Bakken region.

Pipeline owner TransCanada says it has deals in place with U.S. refiners “to ship over hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day to meet the needs of American consumers.”

The shadow over this sunny picture for increased domestic energy comes from environmentalists and academics who say tar sands will force climate change to happen faster; potentially bypass American consumers for better markets overseas, and fail to bring the jobs that promoters have trumpeted.

Pipeline opponents concerned about climate change point out that the carbon- and methane-polluting tar sands could push us past a point of no return, spelling “game over” for the planet, as NASA climate scientist James E. Hansen has said.

Natural Resource Defense Council’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz stressed this point in a blog reacting to the latest review.

“Past reviews severely underestimated the very serious harm to our climate, health, communities and water from the Keystone XL pipeline and expansion of tar sands extraction and refining. Unfortunately, this draft review is no different” wrote Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the NRDC’s International Program.

The pipeline will worsen climate change by enabling the tar sands to expand, she argues.

“…What we already know from existing analysis is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. The pipeline means worsening climate change. Piping it through the US heartland would put our ranchers and farmers at risk from difficult to clean up oil spills. And sending it to the Gulf Coast only makes our country a dirty oil gateway to overseas markets. This is a project where multi-national oil companies reap in the benefits while US communities take the risks.”

A parallel, but different concern being voiced by some academics and environmentalists  is that tar sands extraction, by “scraping the bottom of the barrel” in terms of energy sources, is an economically shaky prospect as well.

Tar Sands (.org) in Canada

An aerial view of a tar sands mining area.

Tar sands oil is the most inefficient of fossil fuels, these critics note. A barrel of tar sands requires several barrels of water to extract. It must be diluted with chemicals and heated (by natural gas) just to ready it for shipping to terminals, where it still must be refined.

All these energy inputs mean that the yield for tar sands is about three refined barrels of oil for the energy input equivalent of one barrel of oil. This 3:1 energy efficiency ratio is far below the current 25:1 energy ratio (roughly) for conventional crude, and fails to beat energy return ratios for renewables.

The economic problem could trigger or compound other issues: If tar sands profit margins are thin, the scramble to cover investments (pipelines, refineries etc.) could drive accelerated extraction, the argument goes, worsening climate change and raising environment risks to pipeline communities.

The full length of the pipeline, from the tar sands in Alberta to the Houston ship channel, will be about 1,800 miles, but the latest review only deals with about one-third of that, the pipeline route from the Montana/Canada border to Southeastern Nebraska.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Nov 192012

From Green Right Now Reports

Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of landowners and environmentalists opposed to the tar sands pipeline, reported that police have arrested 12 protesters in East Texas for trying to stop the construction of the intercontinental pipeline.

The clashes between police and protesters involved a police action that removed a protester from a tree platform in the path of the pipeline work. Authorities employed a cherry picker, a truck with an extension ladder, to remove the young woman who was staging an aerial sit-in, which has become a hallmark of the protesters. The equipment driver maneuvered into position despite being blocked by protesters on the ground, to remove tree sitter Lizzy Alvarado, a 21-year-old cinematography student at Stephen F. Austin University.

Tar Sands Blockade group has forced work stoppages along the pipeline’s construction path through Texas several times over the past two months, typically by members chaining themselves to forest-clearing equipment and also by building tree houses in the pipeline’s path. Others walked to the scene in a show of solidarity at least 30 strong, according to Tar Sands Blockade.

Today’s arrests by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s officers came after some protesters had latched onto work equipment while others formed a human chain to stop the path of the clearing equipment. Three others set up a new tree blockage at the crossing of the Angelina River by suspending themselves from pine trees with life lines attached to heavy machinery “effectively blocking the entirety of Keystone XL’s path,” the group reported.

The protesters oppose the 1,700-mile pipeline — set to run from Alberta to Houston area refineries — because it will carry oil from tar sands, a particularly destructive form of oil that is corrosive and requires the destruction of vast landscapes to expose deposits. Tar sands mining is also water and energy intensive, making it among the least efficient forms of energy. Many environmentalists say it will ratchet up carbon emissions to dangerous levels world wide.

Over the weekend, hundreds of people protested the pipeline in Washington D.C., as part of the “Do the Math” tour. Organizer Bill McKibben says the math for allowing tar sands oil doesn’t add up, because it will contribute to raising the global temperate two degrees above normal, forcing unrecoverable changes in Earth’s atmosphere, ocean levels and weather patterns.

Read more about the East Texas protests here.



Oct 182012

From Green Right Now Reports

A major standoff over the Keystone XL pipeline in unlikely East Texas is becoming more than just a nuisance to pipeline operator TransCanada,  as protesters have repeatedly stood in the path of clearing crews and occupied a tree village aimed as slowing progress on the project.

Supporters arrived this week to replenish the tree village protesters.

The Tar Sands Blockade protesters are now in the fourth week of their “tree sit” in which a handful of activists remain encamped in a patch of forest that was in the pipeline’s path. Work crews have cleared forest nearby and police have cordoned off the encampment.

On Monday, a group of 50 blockade supporters marched into the woods with fresh supplies for the tree campers, and once again, a couple of protesters shackled themselves forest-clearing machinery, a tactic they’ve used several times to slow work crews. Eight protesters were arrested and later released.

Tree sitters in the Lone Star state haven’t been the only October surprise now making national headlines. Two weeks ago, Daryl Hannah arrived to stand in solidarity with Eleanor Fairchild, a 78-year-old Texas woman who faced down tree clearing equipment on her land near Winnsboro. Both were arrested, marking what must surely be one of the few arrests of a person for trespassing on their own property.

“She never signed a contract with TransCanada and feels she still has all the rights to her property,” says Ron Seifert, a media spokesman for the group.

Many property owners who tangled with TransCanada are now doubly angered, Seifert said, because they’ve seen that the pipeline’s course can be altered.

The pipeline operator had insisted on the path it designated, even though that meant plowing down one man’s vineyard and traversing valuable springs on Ms. Fairchild’s land, Seifert said.

But now, TransCanada has re-routed around the tree house encampment, leaving area residents feeling burned.

“They (TransCanada) demanded that the route had to be right where it was,” Seifert said of Fairchild’s debate with the pipeline company. “We now see they could have negotiated and reached an agreement in good faith rather than condemn it (a portion of Fairchild’s property) altogether.”

The strangeness of this fight being waged in Texas, where people are traditionally  pragmatic about pipelines and accustomed to living with oil and gas leases, has not gone unnoticed. Many national publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have filed articles on the protest, which has brought together landowners and activists who oppose the pipeline for environmental reasons. The environmentalists say the tar sands extraction ruins forests and emits more carbon dioxide emissions than even regular crude. The diluted bitumen that the pipeline will carry is more toxic than traditional oil and will do greater damage if the pipeline leaks. Many of the landowners share those concerns and have some special ones of their own.

TransCanada clearly earned extra ill will with the 100 or so landowners who refused to sign lease agreements, in some cases because the company was intransigent about the pipeline path, Seifert said.

The company’s reluctance to commit to using all American labor and steel also fueled animosity, according to an Associated Press story this week.

Landowner opponents see the 1,700 mile pipeline, set to carry Canadian tar sands-produced oil to Houston-area refineries, as an imposition on Texas, given that the oil appears destined for global markets. For some land owners, that negates the argument that Texans should make way for the pipeline and that TransCanada should have “common carrier” status, enabling it to seize property over landowner objections.

The AP story reports on the rancor:

To fight back, insulted Texas landowners are filing and appealing dozens of lawsuits, threatening to further delay a project that has already encountered many obstacles. Others are allowing activists to go on their land to stage protests. Several have been arrested.

“We’ve fought wars for it. We stood our ground at the Alamo for it. There’s a lot of reasons that Texans are very proud of their land and proud when you own land that you are the master of that land and you control that land,” said Julia Trigg Crawford, who is fighting the condemnation of a parcel of her family’s 650-acre Red’Arc Farm in Sumner, about 115 miles northeast of Dallas.

Crawford has not won in the courts so far. Other appeals by landowners to state politicians also have failed to bring relief.

And now TransCanada has fired a legal shot back at the coalition of environmentalists and landowners that compose the Tar Sands Blockade. Last week, it filed a a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), naming 19 people, many of those who’ve been arrested at civil disobedience actions and Seifert.

The suit seeks an injunction against the civil disobedience actions of the 19 and six “unidentified” tree sitters and three organizations.

As Halloween approaches, more than 11,000 people are now following the day-to-day developments on the Tar Sands Blockade Facebook page and dozens of environmental groups have signed a letter of support, standing in solidarity with the blockaders.

Seifert says that on a day-to-day basis about 30 to 40 in the blockade group are meeting and strategizing in East Texas.

TransCanada, meanwhile, has defended its position in Texas, noting that the Southern leg of its pipeline has been approved by the Obama Administration and that lease agreements allow the company to restrict and control access to construction sites.

The Canadian company still faces another landowner issue about 800 miles north, in Nebraska, where a re-routing of the proposed Northern leg of the pipeline is underway. Nebraskans opposed to the pipeline and/or its original route through Nebraska won a reprieve when they convinced officials that the proposed path threatened the Ogallala Aquifer in the state’s Sandhills region.

The Ogallala is close to the surface in the sand dunes region and would be at great risk during a spill. Of course in Texas, the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer lays beneath the pipeline route, but it is not as near the surface.


Dec 012011

Green Right Now Reports

Less than a month since the Obama Administration delayed the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline for at least a year, a group of GOP senators is trying to force the project to begin anyway.

The Ogallala Aquifer supports billions in crop and livestock production in the U.S. heartland.

The partisan showdown is led by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), minority chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Supporters include 37 other senators, including those from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which would host segments of the 1,700 mile pipeline.

The pipeline operated by TransCanada Corp., and which would reportedly benefit the oil-rich Koch Industries, would carry a thick oil, called bitumen, from vast tar sands mines in Canada to refineries in Houston.

Lugar held a news conference on Wednesday to argue for the project.

The group of Senators wants the pipeline approved and ready to begin within 60 days, even though the Obama Administration delayed the project so its impact on land, water and human health could be studied and a new route potential route developed around Nebraska’s fragile Sandhills region.

A pipeline leak in the Sandhills would imperil the massive Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to most of Nebraska and to parts of other plains states.

Environmentalists, many ranchers and some citizen groups oppose the pipeline because tar sands extraction also requires extensive deforestion, uses massive amounts of water, leaves toxic trailings behind and produces more carbon emissions, per barrel, than regular oil production.

Groups of varying partisan stripes joined in two major Keystone protests at the White House this fall.

Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for Tar Sands Action, a key group organizer of the protests, said he was not surprised by the GOP senators’ effort to circumvent adequate review of the pipeline.

“This bill is a good reminder that the oil industry never sleeps. Its sponsor, Dick Lugar, has a hundred percent record of voting for dirty energy bills, and his contributors list is a who’s who of the fossil fuel industries; his co-sponsors have taken even more money from big oil,” he said. “Presumably that’s why they’re using widely-discredited figures about jobs and energy security, when the only independent studies show the pipeline would produce no net jobs, and that the oil would go straight into the global market.

“But we’re grateful to them for reminding us that any environmental victory is temporary until we break the power of corporations to influence our political life.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council also has taken issue with the move to short-circuit review of the project, which came under scrutiny earlier this year for using a lobbyist with special connections to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The State Department signaled in August that it was close to approving the pipeline. (State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses an international boundary.)

NRDC blogger Anthony Swift says the Republican proposal would abrogate the inquiry into influence-peddling by pipeline operator TransCanada and also asks the Obama Administration to take it on faith that a suitable new route around the Sandhills (requiring landowner approval) could be found through Nebraska. Swift writes:

It is particularly disappointing to see this bill coming from Senator Lugar, who in the past has been a champion for farmers and rural communities. TransCanada has spent years trying to railroad the American people with a poorly considered route by bullying landowners with eminent domain, threatening States with lawsuits and providing government officials with misleading information about the feasibility of alternatives. President Obama’s decision to consider a new route for the pipeline has given farmers and landowners a more level playing field when dealing with TransCanada. Forcing the President to approve a route, sight unseen, would pull the carpet out from under the feet of these landowners and the State of Nebraska.

The Lugar proposal, called the North American Energy Security Act, calls for construction of the pipeline to begin within 60 days in all the affected states except Nebraska, where state lawmakers enacted new laws to better regulate oil pipelines and also agreed that a re-routing is needed.

A statement from Lugar’s office explains that the senators see the project as helping the economy and the nation’s energy security and criticizes the Obama Administration for “failing to grasp the potential of energy security within North America.”

“Robust secure and reliable trade with Canada complements our need to aggressively pursue domestic alternatives to oil imports from less friendly nations,” Lugar writes.

Furthermore, the project represents a $7 billion private sector investment in the U.S., and would employ 20,000 people, according to the Indiana senator.

Those numbers, however, have been shown to be vastly inflated by a Cornell University study, which looked at the permit application to the State Department, and concluded the project would employ fewer than 5,000 mostly temporary workers.

Environmentalists have long argued that the tar sands oil will be sold on the global market, raising questions about how much security the tar sands will provide the U.S..

Kessler, of Tar Sands Action, said the GOP senators are short-sighted in failing to recognize the heavy environmental toll of tar sands extraction and use.

“In a world that wasn’t governed by money, you’d think some Senator on this list would have at least responded to the analysis of the federal government’s top climate scientist, NASA’s James Hansen: tap the tar sands heavily and it’s “essentially game over” for the climate. But clearly they’ve decided atmospheric chemistry is less important than campaign cash.”

Lugar won’t face much heat over a decision either for or against the Keystone pipeline, which won’t run through Indiana. But several of the senators signing on to his proposal do have to answer to constituents.

The bill cannot pass without some Democrats joining the effort, which is considered unlikely, though some of the bill’s sponsors will reportedly be meeting with Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry, (D-Mass.).

The GOP senators joining the push for a quick permitting of the Keystone pipeline include Lugar’s co-sponsors John Hoeven (R-N.D.); David Vitter (R-La); Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Mitch McConnell (R-Kty); Mike Johanns (R-Neb.); Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.),

Additional co-sponsors include: John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jeff Sessions(R-Ala.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

More resources:

Open Secrets carries information on campaign contributors to Lugar, and all U.S. Senators.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Oct 242011

From Green Right Now Reports

In a move that had been talked about, but was by no means considered a sure bet, Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman has called for the Obama Administration to turn down the permit request for the controversial Keystone Pipeline XL — at least until the Nebraska state legislature can review the pipeline’s proposed route.

A special session of the Nebraska legislature had been a growing possibility since Heineman, a Republican, said earlier this year that he agreed with pipeline critics that its route across a delicate region of the Nebraska could jeopardize the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Keystone Pipeline XL would carry tar sands oil from Canadian oil fields across the U.S. to refineries in Houston, where it could be sold on global markets. It’s approval has been considered to be likely since the State Department gave it tentative clearance in September. The White House is expected to approve or denial the permit for pipeline construction before the end of 2011.

Critics say the pipeline puts U.S. lands and water at risk, because it will carry corrosive tar sands oil, making the pipeline more prone to leakage. They’ve raised special concerns about the pipeline’s planned journey over the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water to millions in the Midwest, including about 80 percent of Nebraskans where crop farmers and ranchers also rely upon the Aquifer for irrigation.

The 1,700-mile proposed pipeline proposed by TransCanada also would link up with an associated pipeline already in place. That pipeline, which cuts across the Midwest has leaked more than a dozen times since its construction in 2010.

Heineman explained Monday that he is calling the special session to give consideration to re-routing the pipeline around the Sandhills region of Nebraska where a potential oil leak could most easily reach the Aquifer because of the unique geology of the region. The governor said he wasn’t siding with Keystone opponents, but wants to give the state an opportunity to better control pipelines within its borders.

“The key decision for current pipeline discussions is the permitting decision that will be made by the Obama Administration, which is why I have urged President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to deny the permit,” Gov. Heineman said.

“However, I believe Nebraskans are expecting our best efforts to determine if alternatives exist. Therefore, I will be calling a special session of the Nebraska Legislature to have a thoughtful and thorough public discussion about alternative solutions that could impact the route of the pipeline in a legal and constitutional manner.”

Heineman and State Senator Mike Flood of Norfolk, Speaker of the Legislature, have set the starting date of the Special Session for Nov. 1.

A TransCanada spokesman said Monday that it is too late in the process to re-route the pipeline, which already has been planned to follow a safe path.

TransCanada has promoted the pipeline as a construction boon for the U.S., and emphasizes that the tar sands oil comes from an ally of the U.S., unlike some imported oil from less-friendly nations.

Bold Nebraska, a citizens’ group composed of environmental activists, ranchers and concerned residents, opposes the pipeline, mainly because of its threat to clean water and land. The group maintains that Nebraska would be better off developing renewable and traditional American energy, which also creates jobs. From the group’s website:

“The TransCanada pipeline, called Keystone XL, is a risky and bad idea for our state, our land, our water and our economic activity. We do not want to see it built. We want to see investments in American-made energy, including domestic oil and sustainable biofuels, wind, solar and efficiency programs, which bring long-term jobs to rural and urban Nebraska.”

A re-routing of the pipeline would delay the project, because TransCanada would have to renegotiate land easements in new locations.

Some critics of the pipeline’s route have suggested that it could take a more northerly route across Nebraska and then cut south in the eastern part of the state. Such a route would add miles to the pipeline, but would avoid the Sandhills region.


Sep 132011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The news this week is really quite bad. I want to look away. But let’s just sample a few items first.

Top of the list — and the planet — the Arctic ice has thinned to a volume more than 60 percent less than what it was in the late 1970s, according to new research from the University of Bremen. Scientists now think that we could be without a Northern ice cap within 30 years, far sooner than predicted by the Interplanetary Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

No ice cap means the Earth will have less reflectivity, meaning it will absorb more heat into the oceans, meaning it will be hotter. I want to make that really simple, because I am sure that climate deniers will come up with some twist that somehow makes not having an Arctic ice cap out to be a good thing. I’m not sure what that would be. But I’ll bet those people who’ve been cheering for the death penalty and for letting uninsured people die during the GOP debates could come up with something really mean-spirited.

Another story about losing our cool: Snowboarders and pro skiers are lobbying in Washington this week to try to get lawmakers to understand that glaciers, and therefore snow sports, are in jeopardy in this warming world. Apparently the climate denial juggernaut in DC is so entrenched that we need Olympians to explain what should be obvious: Hotter average global temperatures means less snow. If policymakers wanted to acknowledge this they could merely look at the factual information available on Glacier National Park, which has lost most of its glaciers over the last century, and now holds on to only 25 where once there were 150. This is scary. But nothing can be done of course because oil companies fund campaigns, not park rangers.

Final downer tale from the mail: Oceana reports today that European fishing fleets are overfishing far more than previously thought, thanks to generous government subsidies. Apparently America isn’t the only rich nation set on ruining the planet. Over-consuming European fishing fleets are threatening fisheries despite having pledged to institute sustainable practices. Sadly, Oceana is one of just a handful of organizations worldwide calling out how “human activities” are endangering marine life. And though it’s been shown in microcosm that controlled fishing yields healthy fish populations, we seem a long ways from protecting the food chain. How many consumers and diners ask about the provenance of their fish? Exactly. As the Oceana report points out, oversight is needed.

Where’s the good news? I always ask this question of doctors I see and people I interview. This week I found a bright spot in a recent story by a fellow green blogger, Karl Burkart. Naturally it’s about green energy.

His piece “How Would You Spend $7 Billion” notes that a transmission line/wind energy project designed to carry wind power out of an exceptionally high-wind area in Wyoming to the populated far Southwest could capture enough green energy to power the city of Los Angeles for about the same price — $7-8 billion – as the Keystone XL pipeline project that’s slated to slog dirty oil 1,700 miles across the US heartland from Canada to Houston. The proposed pipeline has become a lightning rod for activists because it threatens  the environment at every turn, from its strip-mining extraction which annihilates forests to its energy intensive refinement. And its predecessor, a shorter pipeline completed in 2010 has been leaking like a sieve.

These aren’t the same types of energy, obviously, but as Burkart rightly notes, we will soon be powering our electric vehicles with wind power and solar power. In fact, I could power my electric car (if I had one) right now with wind power because here in Texas I’m already on a 100-percent wind power electricity plan at home.

Burkart reports that the Sierra Madre Wind Project coupled with the TransWest Express System to transmit the energy, could send power from wind farms in Wyoming to an energy hub in the Las Vegas area, delivering  9 million MWh’s (megawatt-hours) of wind power to population centers in the West, enough to power 1.8 million homes.

The wind project and transmission line would produce about 18,000 jobs, considerably more than the 3,000 to 4,000 jobs that the US State Department has estimated the Keystone pipeline would create. (Pipeline owner TransCanada says the pipeline would generate thousands more than that.)

This massive wind project is unproven and could fall short of its promise. But even if the capacity did not reach the hoped-for potential, the effort appears likely to produce an enduring source of energy that produces zero carbon emissions. You can argue about birds and whirring and site issues all day long, but at the end of the day the environmental metrics favor this type of power.

The Keystone project, on the other hand, is dredging up a vast area of forests in Alberta to access oil a thick, tricky oil, releasing the carbon held by the forests and producing a second round of carbon emissions when it’s burned. All told tar sands bitumen generates an estimated three times the carbon produced by regular crude drilling. And that isn’t saying much.

It’s true that the pipeline could bring in about 500,000 barrels of oil a day to the US, but that’s only about  2.5 percent of what we consume, as Burkart notes, hardly the answer to freeing the US from Middle Eastern oil.

So to sum up: Tar sands oil costs a lot more to extract, requires large quantities of water, ruins forests (sorry TransCanada you can say you’ll put them back but it ain’t the same), fails to displace the Saudis and is more corrosive when it leaks, which we know it does.

Wind energy, on the other hand, leaves useable land beneath wind turbines, consumes no water during production and risks no harm to land, streams or aquifers. It powers homes, and by extension, electric cars, and the power produced won’t be exported, which may not be true of the tar sands oil.

That’s such a good news story. And there’s more like it on the way. This week the American Wind Energy Association will be releasing a positive report on Small and Community Wind projects showing that the sector added 25.6 megawatts of new capacity in 2010. That’s good for both the environment and the economy.

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