5 Power Brokers Who'll Determine the Fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline and Our Future
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
On Thursday, visitors to the PipeTech Americas Summit got a speech they weren’t planning on hearing. As employees from pipeline construction companies gathered to discuss new technology and listen to Tom Hamilton, Manager of Quality and Compliance for TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline, talk about safety, Tar Sands Blockader Ramsey Sprague jumped up from the crowd and chained himself to the audio equipment next to the projection screen.
While security tried to figure out how to get him unchained, Sprague gave the crowd an earful of a different sort about TransCanada and pipeline safety. He told them:
TransCanada’s safety record is beyond deplorable ...TransCanada’s wanton disregard for the health of our communities is clear from it’s reckless construction practices. I’m taking action today to set the record straight: TransCanada cannot be trusted. There is now clear evidence that Keystone XL is not safe, and I will not stand aside while a multinational corporation poisons Texas communities.
And so the saga continues. Each day it seems, there is another skirmish between opponents and proponents of the pipeline. The date for a final decision on whether or not the pipeline will be allowed to cross the United States’ northern border (construction has already begun on the southern portion of the pipeline), looks like it will still be a few months down the road.
Already some important players are lining up to take sides as more information comes in about TransCanada and the effect of tar sands mining. "Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don't understand the situation or that they just don't give a damn," one of the country’s leading climatologists, James Hansen, told Scientific American. "People who care should draw the line."
The Keystone XL Pipeline will be a definitive line, if allowed to be built. Here’s a look at the people who can influence the decision and may be holding our future in their hands.
1. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman
The Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska has been contentious from the start, in part, John M. Broder wrote for the New York Times, “because of the ecological value of the Sand Hills and in part because residents organized early to oppose the land acquisitions required for the rights of way.”
The pipeline’s course through the state has been “slightly revised” — enough anyway that Nebraska’s Governor Heineman finally gave the project the nod — a major victory for pipeline proponents. A citizens action group, Bold Nebraska, which has been fighting the project, called it one of “the biggest flip-flops in Nebraska political history.” The group released a statement saying:
Heineman turned his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline. It is a shame when a politician these days can't cross party lines even to stand up for our water and family farmers and ranchers.
The economic figures Heineman cites in his approval of the route are incorrect, misleading and refuted by journalists and economic experts. Additionally, Bold Nebraska requested a pipeline expert to review economic portions of the DEQ report and found the numbers to be biased and on very shaky ground.
Heineman’s stance definitely increases the political pressure in Washington. Are there any Republican politicians left that can stand up to Big Oil?
2. Secretary of State (to be) John Kerry
And are there any Democrats that can stand up to Big Oil? We shall see.
With John Kerry being confirmed as our next Secretary of State, the ball is officially in his court now on the future of the Keystone XL pipeline and our climate. No doubt there will be a lot of political pressure on him, although the ultimate decision will come down to Obama. Which way will Kerry advocate for?
Climate Progress’s Joe Romm is optimistic, writing, “I do not think that a man who had dedicated his Senate career to fighting catastrophic climate change would start his term as Secretary approving the expansion of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world. Keystone is a gateway to a huge pool of carbon-intensive fuel most of which must be left in the ground — along with most of the world’s coal and unconventional oil and gas – if humanity is to avoid multiple devastating impacts that may be beyond adaptation.”
In Kerry’s own words, here is what he said at his confirmation hearing:
The solution to climate change is energy policy. And, the opportunities of energy policy so vastly outweigh the downsides that you’re expressing concerns about … You want to do business and do it well in America, you have to get into the energy race … I would respectfully say to you that climate change is not something to be feared in response to—the steps to respond to—it’s to be feared if we don’t … I will be a passionate advocate on this not based on ideology but based on facts and science, and I hope to sit with all of you and convince you that this $6 trillion market is worth millions of American jobs and we better go after it.
3. President Barack Obama
A man needs to be judged by his actions and not just his words, and yet many folks are clinging to Obama’s words about climate change during his recent inaugural address, hoping they give away his hand when it comes to Keystone. The President said:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.
Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.
The next few months will be a clear indication of just how the Obama administration intends to lead on this issue. The last four years have been undeniably disappointing on that front. The decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will set the stage for whether or not the administration will bend to Big Oil or whether Obama can make the case that protecting the environment and creating jobs can actually go hand-in-hand and does not need to include the dirtiest form of fossil fuels known to humankind.
4. We, the People
Despite all the talk about how our political leaders may come down on this issue, there is a still a not-so-little matter of the people to contend with. A coalition of environmental groups has been working to raise awareness about the environmental hazards of the pipeline and tar sands mining, and to exert public pressure on the top decision-makers.
In the latest effort, the Forward on Climate Rally is planned in Washington DC at noon on February 17 — President’s Day. Organizers say it will be the largest climate rally in history. 350.org, one of the groups organizing the rally posted:
Crippling drought. Devastating wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. Climate has come home – and the American people get it.
The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis.
The event is being organized along with the Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus.
Maura Cowley of Energy Action Coalition wrote:
President Obama concluded his speech last Monday with a call for citizen action, saying “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”
In other words: “Your job is to push me.”
Look out, President Obama.
While the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t the decision-making agency on the pipeline, that belongs to the State Department — the EPA can still weigh in (and has) on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The next SEIS is due to be released shortly.
As Lisa Song reported for Inside Climate News:
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to review and comment publicly on the SEIS, and the agency has not been shy about criticizing earlier drafts.
"The EPA actually could assert a fair amount of power depending on, basically, how much they want to stick their necks out," said Jim Murphy, senior counsel at the National Wildlife Federation, which opposes the pipeline. "The level of scrutiny this is going to get is pretty intense. With each iteration this goes through, the number of eyes increases."
The EPA may be the biggest wild card in all of the decision making because the agency is undergoing a leadership change at the moment with Lisa Jackson stepping down. While a leadership change over at the State Department is under way, it is unclear who will lead the EPA. Indeed, there was speculation when Lisa Jackson gave her notice, that she was leaving because the Obama administration was set to approve the pipeline. It may be a few more months to see if those rumors pan out.