Hurricane Sandy Shows Us Why We Can’t Afford Dirty Energy Projects like the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

The folloing blog post is from Brig. Gen. Steve Anderson (U.S. Army-ret.) who served under Gen. David Petraeus as deputy chief of staff, logistics. He is the now chief marketing officer of RELYANT, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business based in Knoxville, Tenn.

As we clean up from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, it behooves us to listen carefully to climate scientists who predict climate change will bring us more frequent and destructive storms like Sandy.  Climate change is arguably the most pressing challenge we will face as a nation in the years ahead and we cannot let deliberate campaigns to undermine climate science – as exposed last week by Frontline – to derail what is a national and international imperative to confront the reality of our changing climate.

First on the agenda is investing in clean energy.  But we will also need to say no to new sources of dirty energy.  Take the massive tar sands pipeline proposal, the Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to the Gulf that Governor Romney has said he would approve on Day One of his Administration.  Not only would this override decades of bipartisan review for projects of this size and import, it would take the country down a ruinous path to greater fossil fuel addiction and increase our national security risks from climate change.

As the former Army senior logistician in Iraq, responsible for providing our forces with 2 million gallons of fuel each day, I saw the impact first hand of our dependence on oil. In Iraq and Afghanistan, over 1000 personnel were killed just transporting oil over long and difficult supply lines.  And accessing tar sands oil would contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions and climate change—which the Defense Department says can “act as an accelerant to instability and conflict.”  We urgently need to lessen, not increase, our dependence on oil.

Governor Romney puts the pipeline forward as a key component to our economic recovery.  Yet Keystone XL will do nothing to reduce gas prices. Oil prices are set on the global market based on speculators and global economics—and the president has little power to lower costs for U.S. consumers. Because the pipeline is mainly an export pipeline, noted oil economists have hypothesized that the pipeline may even increase prices at the pump as the oil flows overseas. 

As for economic development, it will do little to build the kind of long-term jobs we need.  The Republican ticket has seriously inflated the number of jobs the pipeline would create and independent analysis by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute warn that more jobs could be lost in tourism and agriculture from pipeline spills.

I rarely agree with President Obama, and Governor Romney remains my choice for President on other grounds.  However, my fellow Republicans should concede that the President made the right call in January when he postponed granting a permit to build the pipeline.

Governor Romney’s pledge to approve the pipeline would take us in the wrong direction, putting Big Oil’s interests over U.S. interests. It will give us the false sense of security that we can rely on oil – even if it is the dirtiest on the planet –for the next 50 years. 

Instead of approving a dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline, we should make fuel efficiency and new sources of fuel a Day One agenda item.  We have the chance now to unhook from Big Oil, distance ourselves from volatile regions, and focus on efficiency and innovation, putting American ingenuity to work. Not only will this reduce the perils of our oil dependence, it will reduce our exposure to climate change and the ravages of more frequent storms like Sandy.

Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Could be Topic of Debate Tonight

As the country readies for the first Presidential debate tonight, the campaigns are busy spinning the issues.  One of the issues is the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a massive pipeline proposal that would cut through the heartland of America carrying toxic tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf coast.   It has come to symbolize the choice we face today as a nation – deepen our dependence on fossil fuels or move to a clean energy future. 

Governor Romney has said the pipeline is a top priority of his energy plan and he has gone so far as to say that he’ll build the pipeline with his own hands if he has to.  His campaign has frequently mentioned Keystone XL as a potential debate topic.  

Today, the Obama campaign put out a memo that mentions Keystone XL first in a list of failed policies underpinning Romney’s plan to make America energy independent. 

So, why is this such an important issue?

First, this pipeline will accelerate the extraction of dirty tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada. Producing tar sands oil takes huge amounts of energy and leaves vast areas a wasteland.  Increasing our reliance on this oil will make it extremely difficult to offset the worst of global warming.  Filling the pipeline is equal to putting nearly 5 million more cars on the road or building 7 new coal fired power plants.  More than 10, 000 people surrounded the White House last November asking the President to consider the climate impacts associated with the pipeline.

Second, this is a really massive proposal. The tar sands pipeline would carry bitumen, the dirtiest oil on the planet, under high pressure across over 2000 waterways, including one of our largest sources of drinking and irrigation water, the Ogallala aquifer.  Farmers and ranchers across the Plain States are up in arms about spills into their water supplies.

Third, after travelling 1,700 miles, the bitumen would be refined and could be sent anywhere in the world.  In other words, we get the risk but not the oil.  Ironically, while Governor Romney says that if we don’t take this oil, China will, this pipeline could in fact be used to send oil to China. Military leaders, including General Petraeus’ right hand in Iraq, have said that this pipeline will do nothing to increase our energy security.

President Obama put it best when he said that doubling the fuel efficiency standards saves the equivalent of all the oil that would be pumped through the Keystone XL pipeline for 45 years.   This is a clean energy future that relies on American ingenuity rather than destroying our lands. 

What is the status of the pipeline?

The State Department is tasked with the permitting of the pipeline since it crosses an international border.  For over two years, the risks of the pipeline have been debated with attention focused on potential catastrophic spills into the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska.  Last fall, the President announced that a new route must be found and that additional safety and environmental issues needed to be considered before the pipeline could be approved. 

House Republicans, incensed over the delay in permitting the pipeline, attached a rider to the tax holiday extension late in December forcing the President to make a decision by the end of February.  In January, the President rejected the pipeline permit, saying that it would be irresponsible to permit a pipeline that had no route and for which the review was not concluded.   A new proposal has been made but all the contentious issues still remain. 

What about jobs and gas prices?

Yesterday, Congressman Ryan alluded to the jobs that would be created in building Keystone XL pipelinewill be created.  But the pipeline company itself has estimated that there would be 6,000 jobs created and even those numbers are overstated.  According to the pipeline company, only a few hundred jobs would be created for the long term.   Studies by Cornell University find the risks of spills could wipe out many more jobs in agriculture, tourism and other sectors.

And as for gas prices, economists believe that the pipeline will actually increase gas prices by diverting oil from the Midwest to the Gulf.   Right now, tar sands oil sells for less than lighter crudes in the Midwest because of the cost of refining it.  By moving it to the Gulf, experts expect the price of gas will actually increase in the Midwest.  And gas prices will not fall in the Gulf because the price for tar sands oil is expected to increase once it gets to an international port where highest bidder controls who gets the oil.  In other words, savings in the pockets of Midwesterners today will be profits in the pockets of the oil industry tomorrow.

In sum –

Governor Romney’s position has always been clear – his energy plans relies on reckless development of Canadian tar sands oil rather than on reducing our demand for oil and developing new and cleaner energy sources right here in America.

Building the pipeline will not generate thousands of jobs. It will not put America back on the road to recovery.  It will not make America more energy independent.  Instead, it will put the American public at risk of a catastrophic spill and it will deepen our addiction to a very dirty oil at a time that we can ill afford to do so.

Governor Romney has stated that he would approve the pipeline in his first day in office.  That would contravene decades of both Republican and Democratic Administrations that have followed the review process laid out in the governing Executive Order, and put at risk the health and safety of the American public.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is for the benefit of Canadian industry and Big Oil.  It will not benefit America.

Think The Public Likes Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline? Think Again

When Americans learn the truth about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, they grasp what a colossal mistake it would be to proceed with this project. That’s the central finding of a new poll which takes a much closer look at public attitudes than earlier surveys did. The poll, conducted in the battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Colorado, found that voters backed President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, 46 percent to 37 percent, once they heard the arguments for and against the pipeline.  (Even before hearing the arguments, 32 percent of voters backed the President’s decision – significantly more than found in polling with highly unreliable and generic questions that had been conducted earlier.)

As reported in Politico, the Hart Research poll illustrates an important but thus far overlooked point:  once voters learn the full story about the tar sands pipeline, their views of the project dramatically change.    First, voters learned that this is not generic pipeline carrying conventional oil like so many pipelines that now exist.  The Keystone XL pipeline will carry tar sands, a uniquely corrosive and acidic mixture, more risky than most of the pipelines across the country.   This blend of tar sands bitumen makes pipes more susceptible to corrosion bringing a higher chance of oil spills.  Canadian tar sands oil is now being pushed through U.S. pipelines that were built and designed for less abrasive conventional oil. And TransCanada – the proponent of Keystone XL – has a bad safety record, in fact   Keystone One, (the existing sister pipeline to Keystone XL) spilled 14 times alone in the United States, and over 20 times in Canada, in its first year of operation.  President Obama made the decision to deny the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because the government was not given enough time to fully evaluate all of the pipeline’s health and safety issues (not to mention the full route was never scoped out).  It is no wonder that once voters understood these key facts more clearly they found good reason to support the President’s denial of the pipeline.

Second, they learned that the pipeline is meant to meet the needs of foreign oil companies wanting access to an international port.  Keystone XL is a tar sands export pipeline through America – not for America.  Keystone XL would not increase U.S. energy security and would increase the price of oil in the Midwest. Essentially, Keystone XL would take oil from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast where it can be sold on the international market. Exporting Canadian tar sands oil at higher prices on the world market may increase profits for the tar sands industry, but does not offer the U.S. energy security and it jeopardizes our drinking water all while increasing prices for American consumers.

Other polls touting public support for generic “pipeline” questions deserve a second, especially look in light of the Hart Research poll.  Last week Rasmussen released a poll claiming that a majority of Americans in favor of the pipeline and the National Journal also released a poll with similar findings.

These other polls don’t give a fair assessment of where the public is because they asked about Keystone XL as a “pipeline” or an “oil pipeline,” which papers over the primary issue about Keystone XL – that it carries tar sands.     Failing to mention that Keystone XL is a tar sands pipeline carrying a very different and more dangerous substance than conventional oil is a significant omission. The Rasmussen poll exacerbates the bias by offering false choices; asking people to weigh in on issues that are matters of fact, not opinion; and by making no reference to environmental concerns about the pipeline.  The National Journal poll question just discusses an “oil pipeline.”   As the Hart Poll demonstrated, referencing tar sands and the concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline elicits a very different response from voters.  Here is another assessment of the problems with these  other polls from my colleague Liz Barratt-Brown.

One reason the public is so unaware of the arguments against the pipeline is likely the massive multi-million advertising campaigns by the oil industry such as American Petroleum Institute.   Media blitzes by pro-pipeline proponents feature the pipeline as a job creator and savoir of energy security.   And this misleading information has gotten significant media attention.

Media Matters, a nonprofit organization that tracks the media, released a survey that analyzed coverage of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from August 1 to December 31, 2011  finding that the media overwhelmingly framed the pipeline as a jobs issue repeating unsubstantiated and incorrect job creation numbers from industry.  Meanwhile, Media Matters reported that the media did not provide the same reporting coverage of the environmental risks.  In short, the public has been hearing one side of the story.

But the Hart Research poll shows that once voters learn that with Keystone XL there are greater dangers of a toxic oil spill and that the pipeline itself is designed to take oil through America – not to America – their apparent support fades.

Citizens across the United States deserve to hear the full story about the risks and problems with this tar sands pipeline.  It is only with an accurate picture of the whole landscape that they can truly understand that President Obama made the right decision for America to deny the tar sands pipeline.

A win in the Keystone XL pipeline fight

While most of us were caught up in the emerging Herman Cain scandal of last week, big news came from the White House that President Obama called for a new review and year-long delay in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.

The announcement is a tremendous victory for all those who stood up against the Keystone XL pipeline and is a real testament for the strength of a people powered movement.

Here’s a great blog post by NRDC President Frances Beinecke on the administration’s decision to delay:

President Obama took a stand for the people of Nebraska today, and Americans everywhere, when his administration stood up to Big Oil to say we won’t put our people, waters and croplands at risk for the sake of pipeline profits and dirty fuels.

That kind of leadership takes courage, and I applaud the president for doing the right thing.

The State Department has decided to conduct a new review of the Keystone XL proposal. In its statement, officials said they will analyze alternative routes for the pipeline, but they also mentioned the need to consider “environmental concerns, including climate change.” The process will likely take until early 2013.

This is a major victory. For months, we’ve demonstrated the State Department’s review of the pipeline was flawed, inadequate, and possibly even biased. This project simply cannot withstand scrutiny. We are confident that after thorough review, President Obama will kill this dangerous pipeline once and for all.

Today’s announcement confirms the President’s commitment to building a clean energy future. In July, he proposed clean car standards that will cut vehicle carbon pollution in half, reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030, and create up to 150,000 American jobs. Earlier this week, the administration moved ahead with plans to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

These measures will unleash innovation, make the air safer for our families, and put Americans to work bringing our cars and power plants into the 21st century. Dirty tar sands oil—the production of which releases three times as many greenhouse gases as conventional crude—has no place in that future.

To learn more, continue reading “Victory in Keystone XL Pipeline Fight: Obama Administration Calls for New Review and a Year Delay.”

Upton represents Michigan’s past, not its future

Representative Fred Upton, Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has a choice every day: does he support oil companies and other special interests, or does he promote clean energy that will end our dependence on oil and improve our national security?

Unfortunately, most mornings he has been making the wrong choice.

Upton represents a district in Southwest Michigan, a part of the country that has been hard hit by the economic recession.  But Michigan is making progress by investing in clean energy and related industries: Michigan currently ranks fourth in the country for jobs in the solar industry and has more than 200 companies working in wind or solar power.  More than 10,000 people work in Michigan’s renewable energy sector, and a majority of those jobs have been created in the last five years.

What about Upton?  He’s been  championing an oil pipeline that would deliver tar sands oil from Canada to Texas.  Not only would this pipeline raise gas prices in his district, it would benefit his special interest donors and companies that he holds stock in.

He’s also been working hard to undermine clean air safeguards that help protect public health, even misrepresenting his own proposed legislation .

It’s not surprising that the majority of Upton’s constituents do not support his work for special interests.   As one constituent said: “It’s time for Upton to start representing Michigan, not Big Oil.”

As the chairman of a powerful House committee, Upton’s decisions have a real impact on the lives of millions of people.   I just wished he could make the right ones.