The Keystone XL pipeline is unique in that it poses both a supreme environmental threat and is gravely symbolic; a harbinger of a certain fossil fuel-dependent doom, if you will. If constructed, the pipeline would carry tar sands crude all the way from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In all, the pipeline would span over 1,600 miles. And tar sands crude, being literally the dirtiest fuel source we know of, is nastier stuff than regular oil, and has been found to be more likely to cause leaks and spills. And since we already see plenty of those with the regular pipelines (the Yellowstone pipeline rupture just weeks ago), there's plenty of reason to be concerned.
Yet the US House of Representatives just acted to bring this abomination one step closer to reality.
The House voted 279-147 in favor of forcing the Obama administration to make a decision on the $7 billion dollar pipeline by November 1st. And though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where the Democrats still maintain a majority, it's a foreboding sign that the pipeline is inching closer to reality.
After all, Wikileaks revealed that the US State Department had made comments to the Canadian government indicating that they'd eventually approve the lucrative but dangerous Keystone project.
Yesterday's vote was nonetheless met with a harsh reaction from environmental groups, farmers' associations, and concerned citizens across the nation. The groups called for stricter safety reviews and regulations before any such pipeline be considered, among other things. After all, the company that would be responsible for building the pipeline, TransCanada, has an alarmingly BP-esque safety record. The NRDC's International Program Director Susan Casey-Lefkowitz points out that "TransCanada's first Keystone pipeline has had over 30 leaks just in its first year of operation in the US and Canada. And just last week, TransCanada's natural gas pipeline in Wyoming exploded. TransCanada had said that this natural gas pipeline was an example of its most stringent safety standards."
Let's face it. This thing would eventually spill, leak, or rupture. That's a bet I'd be willing to take with anyone (TransCanada, you game?). Which is why Casey-Lefkowitz is right when she points out that "No one should be rushing this pipeline without the thorough and science-based review the American public deserves. Not Congress and not the State Department. What we need is to protect our waters, lands and public safety. This does not include another tar sands pipeline."
But the true travesty is that the Keystone XL would plug us into a massive, unprecedentedly dirty new source of fossil fuel that would lead to untold amounts of particulate and greenhouse gas pollution. Forcing a vote on a matter that may bind the United States' fate to fossil fuels for decades to come is the most irresponsible aspect of all in this debate. Yet green groups are forced to play up the conservation angle because the American public is still so confused about climate change.
Sad times, these.