I originally wrote this on November 11, 2011, but didn’t publish it immediately because I instead submitted it as an op-ed piece to the Washington Post. The guidelines of many big newspapers, such as the Post and New York Times, require that submissions are completely unpublished, in any form, including personal blogs. Such big papers also can take up to two weeks to accept or reject submitted writing, and in that time this piece became a little dated, and I never got around to self publishing it after it was rejected. However, I did put a lot of time into writing this, and with all the new controversies surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ve decided to post it to my blog in its original form. Was I the only one who saw the “delay” as a cop out at the time? Bill McKibben, perhaps you need my phone number…
United States President Barack Obama today announced that he will delay the decision of whether or not to approve the 1700 mile Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring dirty, toxic tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. Tar sands are terribly inefficient fuel sources; huge quantities of water are needed to heat and separate oil from the other materials in tar sands. In order to make the tar sands viscous enough to be pumped from the earth and through the pipeline, toxic chemicals must be added to the crude material. The process is so wasteful that it takes roughly two tons of tar sands to produce a single barrel of oil, and the process of mining and refining tar sands releases two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases as the production of conventional oil (which isn’t all that great either). Tar sands are dirty, toxic, and inefficient and promoting them is an awfully terrible idea.
So when Obama’s administration announced that the decision as to whether or not to approve the pipeline was going to be pushed off until early 2013, after the 2012 election, I found it hard to feel as victorious as Bill McKibben and other Tar Sands Action advocates. Sure, I’m glad the proposal wasn’t approved, and I’m darn proud to be one of the 12,000 demonstrators who protested outside the White House this past Sunday, but there is a lot of language surrounding the decision to postpone the decision that worries me.
For one, there is a lot of talk about alternative routes. Nebraskans adamantly oppose the tar sands, concerned that the chemicals will ruin their farmland and further threaten the already endangered Sand Hill crane. They showed up in droves to the November 6th protest, wearing “corn fingers” that touted “Stop TransCanada Pipeline” and “No Oil in Our Soil.” Clearly, they made an impression.
Alternative routes don’t sound like a good idea to me. While I applaud the President for realizing the risk of cutting through Nebraska’s sand hills with a giant pipeline full of dirty, crude oil, I’m positive that putting a tar sands pipeline anywhere is a bad idea. The only acceptable alternative is to stop the pipeline altogether, something the President seems afraid to do.
Obama, put your big boy pants on. While campaigning in 2007 and 2008, you said “Let’s be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil.” You said that the government should invest in clean energy and green jobs. So when faced with the decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that really doesn’t have anything positive going for it, why the hold up?
The pipeline will not create green jobs. In fact, it will destroy as many jobs as it creates, and it will destroy our environment along with it. In a November 5 article, the Washington Post revealed that pipeline proponents grossly overestimated the number of jobs the pipeline would create, and a report by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute suggested that the number of jobs lost from potential pipeline disasters, increased health care costs, and increased cost of gasoline due to diverting tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast will negate any employment gain from the pipeline’s temporary jobs.
And what of the oil? Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer feels that the Keystone XL pipeline is vital for the U.S. economy and Canadian economy. “If Keystone XL dies,” he wrote in an emailed message, “Americans will … continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security.” Well, Mr. Girling, a little bird told me that U.S. Republicans refuse to vote for legislation that would guarantee that the oil from the pipeline would not be sold overseas, and those jobs you speak of don’t exist. So where does that leave your argument?
Unfortunately, it seems that Canadian parliament supports the Keystone XL pipeline. “We remain hopeful the project will be decided on its merits and eventually approved,” said a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Our government will continue to promote Canada, and the oil sands, as a stable, secure, and ethical source of energy for the world.” Mr. Harper, are you out of your mind?
Tar sands oil is toxic and inefficient. Creation of the Keystone XL pipeline would create some jobs, but temporary ones, and would kill at least as many. It would endanger the health and lifestyles of millions of Americans and Canadians, many of which will lose their homes and farmland when TransCanada uses eminent domain to seize property for construction of the pipeline. Further development of the tar sands will continue to pollute our air and water, and will contribute catastrophically to a rapidly changing global climate.
I like you Obama. You’re charming, you’ve managed to stay pretty scandal free, and you’re a heck of a lot better than the alternative. But you seem cowardly right now. Bill McKibben says I should praise you for your most recent move, but I’m finding it hard to want to pat you on the back for this one.
I wanted you to be my President because you launched your 2008 bid for the White House on an ethical foundation that spoke of compassion for our country, our planet, and its people. I wanted you to take office because I thought you would make the lives of Americans better, because I felt you had good judgement, good morals, and wanted the best for us.
Where is that President now?
What happens, Obama, if you don’t get reelected in 2012? By pushing off your decision about Keystone XL, you are gambling with more than just your Presidency. You are gambling with our health. You are gambling with our trust. You are gambling with the future of our planet, the planet you will leave your little girls. Why take that risk?
By pushing off your decision, Mr. President, you are leaving an open door, and that door is a closet with skeletons and ghouls and goblins inside. You are betting that those of us who have supported you won’t start to worry about your commitment to the environment and public health, and that we will continue to support you in the 2012 elections. You are betting that proponents of the pipeline will bank on you signing off on the disaster in 2013, and will vote for you over conservative candidates who openly support Keystone XL. You are betting that you will win in 2012 and even get the chance to make that decision.
Maybe you’d rather lose the election in 2012 and allow a Republican to make that decision because you are too scared to take a definitive stand yourself.
HOPE. I elected you because I had hope for the future and your presidency. I still do.
While you are still in a position of power, make the right decision, Mr. President. Do what is the best for your country, for your people. Trust that making the right decision will lead to your reelection in 2012, and will ensure the prosperity of the people and country you swore to serve.