Nel's New Day

December 28, 2013

Keystone Pipeline XL – Still Not Decided

As 2013 comes to an end, the question of finishing the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is still not settled. In 2012 the State Department reported found no conflicts of interest in its documents, but it was recently discovered that one of the contractors on the department’s environmental review is also a member of several energy industry groups pushing the project, causing a new investigation by the department’s inspector general.

The issue has separated the positions of potential presidential candidates–former Secretary of State Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Lobbyists for TransCanada include Clinton’s former friend and staffer Paul Elliot and David Goldwyn, Clinton’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. Clinton selected a petroleum industry contractor to write the environmental impact statement. With no climatologist for the report, it failed to estimate the number of degrees that the pipeline would increase the Earth’s climate.

President Obama is trying to coerce the European Union into relaxing its anti-global-warming regulations so that it will import TransCanada oil. Warren joined 21 other Congressional Democrats to sign onto a December 20 letter criticizing the president’s position. A change in government policies would eliminate the cost-advantage of normal oil which costs far less to mine, process, and transfer to market than the dirty, land-locked tar sands oil. The result would be far less use of cleaner oil and far greater damage in climate change. It would also add a net benefit of over $90 billion to the Koch Brothers personal coffers because they own 53 percent of TransCanada.

Future danger isn’t the only issue. Port Arthur (TX), the end point of the pipeline, provides the toxic refining of the product. Cancer rates among people in Jefferson County are 15 percent higher than for the average Texan, and the mortality rate is 40 percent higher. Residents of Port Arthur are four times more likely than people 100 miles upwind to report heart and respiratory conditions, nervous system and skin disorders, headaches and muscle aches, and ENT (ear, nose, and throat) ailments.

Because the pipeline crosses an international border, the president has sole authority in deciding whether the project continues. While he waited to decide, however, he expedited many other projects, including smaller pipelines, through executive orders.

The president may be getting his pipeline information from his former Communications Director, Anita Dunn, who now does public relations for TransCanada through her firm SKDKnickerbocker. If she fails with the pipeline, however, she move on to trains because another of her clients is the Association of American Railroads (AAR). According to a New York Times article a year ago:       

“Dunn regularly attends closed-door political strategy briefings with top Obama aides; White House records show she has visited more than 100 times since leaving her communications job. She is now serving as a paid adviser to the Democratic National Committee.”

Dunn’s husband, Robert Bauer, worked as legal counsel for Secretary of State John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry has the final decision on the Keystone Pipeline XL.

Clinton and Warren also differ on the issue of fracking. In an October speech at Hamilton College in upstate New York, Clinton praised fracking, a method of extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing.  Fracking not only potentially destroys land, air, and water but also produces extensive quantities of methane, “far more potent than a greenhouse gas” that it “would gut the climate benefits of switching from coal,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One oil producer thinks that the Keystone Pipeline is not necessary. Continental Resources prefers rail because of its flexibility. Trains may be flexible, but they’re not safe. Last month a train hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil, possibly from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale fields, derailed and exploded in rural Alabama. Oil spilled into the surrounding wetlands and burned for days, keeping emergency responders away from the train cars. Railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil than five years ago.

Even British Columbia knows the dangers of a pipeline across their land. Last June they voted down a pipeline taking oil from the tar sands from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. The government was not satisfied with the company’s oil spill response. Their action contributed to the fall of crude oil prices.

Meanwhile TransCanada has already started using the southern leg of its pipeline across Oklahoma and Texas despite hundreds of damages and flaws in the pipeline itself and letters of warning of violations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Exactly what TransCanada is doing, however, is unknown because it refuses to release information to landowners, first responders, or government officials.

In October, a Koch Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of crude oil in Texas. It was discovered during an aerial inspection. Yet the vast majority of spills go unreported. The same month, Associated Press investigated spills and found over 300 unreported ones in North Dakota over two years. State regulators aren’t required to inform the public about any spills. Only the oil and gas companies are in charge of determining construction routes of new oil pipelines and the maintenance of existing ones.

Last summer, Rachel Maddow reported oil spills in Alberta, Canada—the source of the tar sands oil for the pipeline through the United States. The province has had an average of two spills per day—for the last 37 years.

This fall the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (Denver, CO) determined that money was more important than the environment when it refused to grant the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma a temporary injunction on the construction of the southern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The financial damage to TransCanada from the injunction would be worse than damage to 485 miles as 700,000 barrels daily crossed 2,227 streams.

The southern half of the pipeline was one of those approved through a presidential executive order almost two years ago. The intent of the order may have been to permit projects with minimal impacts, but it’s now used to allow tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states. TransCanada called each half-acre segment a “single and complete project.” The Army Corps of Engineers agreed despite the fact that TransCanada calls it the “Gulf Coast Pipeline project.”

Instead of addressing the question of whether TransCanada was right in its description of “complete project,” two of the three judges on the panel ruled on the money that Koch Brothers might lose. The minority ruling, however, pointed out, “Transcanada chose to incur its economic harm by entering into contracts for services before the Gulf Coast Pipeline was approved, even in light of the controversial nature of the Pipeline.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer has a perspective on the pipeline that is unusual for the wealthy. “Foreign countries will get more access to more oil to make more products to sell back to us, undercutting our economy,” he said in a four-part, $1 million advertising campaign claiming that the pipeline will hurt the economy and communities. “Here’s the truth: Keystone oil will travel through America not to America.” As a bonus, Steyer started an independent political effort to elect candidates ready to address global warming.

January will probably bring more talk about the Keystone Pipeline because Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) hopes to extort approval from the White House in partial exchange for raising the debt ceiling. He claims that this could make the United States “an energy independent continent within a decade.” This is his support for an endeavor that will result in 35 permanent jobs and make the country a conduit for Canadian oil that’s shipped overseas. The pipeline will also make gasoline more expensive because oil can be more easily be shipped out of the country, forcing U.S. buyers to purchase oil at the global benchmark price instead of at a discount.

The GOP loves the pipeline almost as much as they hate people having health insurance. They’re willing to destroy the resources of our country to get their own way.

If President Obama decides that the State Department’s report is tainted by a conflict of interest, he can require another report—and that can take a long time. The decision has been on-going for at least five years; the president may never need to decide whether the project should be finished.  

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