What the Keystone XL Choice Means

Authors: Shamar Bibbins, Senior Political Associate "A few bucks here and there isn't going to help us for a lifetime, let alone the next generation. If it's going to hurt us in the long run, we don't need to do it." This is the voice of James Foster, a 55-year-old electrician and union member who came to a rally in Washington several weeks ago. The rally, led by the Sierra Club (who were the first to share James’ quote) and other friends and allies in the environmental community, gathered scores of people in opposition to the construction of the planned Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project (a.k.a Keystone Pipeline XL). James heard that the rally was a protest for jobs. Like many of his colleagues that were encouraged to attend a public hearing held by the State Department to support the pipeline, he didn’t know a lot about the issue. When he learned more, James Foster decided that work that destroys the environment isn't worth it. He’s right. We have a clear choice before us. We can protect our ecosystem, water sources and public health, or we can continue with business as usual – creating dirty, dangerous jobs that put our communities, workers and environment at risk. DC Keystone Protest

PHOTO: Protests organized by 350.org

Actually, the person who has to make the choice is President Obama - and soon. He is charged with making the final decision on whether or not oil industry giant TransCanada can extend the pipeline, which currently runs from Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma. An extension would transport tar sands oil along a route from Alberta, Canada to Texas, covering nearly 2,000 miles and passing through six states to a delivery point in the Gulf Coast. The proposed plan has come under vehement attack by not only the environmental community, but also labor organizations and Members of Congress. Nebraska’s Republican Governor Dave Heineman has been increasingly vocal about his desire to develop an alternative route that would not cross Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, in an attempt to protect the water supply for the state’s farmers and ranchers. The existing section, after all, has already seen repeated spills.

>We’re not talking about a regular fossil fuel. Tar sands are a viscous form of petroleum that can be mined and turned into a form of crude oil. They are found in extremely large quantities in Canada and Venezuela. Extracting tar sands oil is a hugely energy intensive process that requires vast amounts of water, natural gas, chemical agents, and heavy machinery and equipment. National Geographic described the Alberta Tar Sands as the most environmentally destructive project on the planet. Canadian tar sands oil is the number one source of foreign oil imported into the United States and emits three times the carbon pollution compared to conventional oil. There is strong evidence that tar sands development is poisoning First Nations communities in Canada who are on the frontlines of extraction. Over the last 40 years, open pit tarring has weakened the water quality and quantity of these indigenous communities. Increasingly, these communities are experiencing high rates of rare and aggressive cancers, while their traditional ways of life of relying on the water and land are under assault. There are two arguments made in support of extending the pipeline: national security and jobs. The argument that vastly increasing carbon dioxide pollution and therefore the impacts of climate change somehow helps our national security fails to consider the long-term perspective. Meanwhile, the job numbers cited by TransCanda have been overstated, exceeding State Department estimates by a factor of 19 - and it is important to note that the majority of the jobs created will be temporary, not permanent. James Foster couldn’t reconcile the valid and urgent need for more jobs with the long-term detriment that the pipeline could cause. With any luck, the President won’t be able to either.

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