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Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline faces a wide ranging sea of opposition

Elizabeth Shope

Posted December 19, 2012

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This blog was jointly written with NRDC intern Olly Merrill

The State Department has indicated that it will soon release a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. My colleague Anthony Swift blogged last week about the key pieces that this environmental review should contain – including proper consideration of the climate impacts of developing the tar sands, the pipeline company’s poor environmental record, and the fact that the pipeline will be detrimental to communities and to U.S. energy security. Over the last two and half years, opposition to the pipeline has stemmed from a variety of issues and concerns, but environmental and climate impacts are a major worry. These environmental concerns have been voiced loud and clear in opposition coming from a multitude of sources. Unions, farmers, elected officials, first nations, public interest groups, business leaders, and many others have made it clear, through their words and actions, that trading our clean water, air, land and climate for dirty oil is not acceptable. Opposition has been building not just to Keystone XL but to all tar sands pipelines and expansion of the tar sands themselves, with similarly wide-ranging groups of people opposing Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline to British Columbia, Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion to Vancouver, and proposed pipelines to the East Coast of Canada and the U.S. This time around, the State Department should deliver on a comprehensive environmental review that addresses the concerns of the many individuals and organizations who have spoken out to express their concerns about the pipeline – and which should make it crystal clear that tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline are not in the national interest.

Thumbnail image for Nov 6 Tar Sands Action Credit Clayton Conn.JPGNovember 6, 2011 tar sands action in Washington, DC. Credit: Clayton Conn.

Specifically, the individuals and groups who have expressed opposition and concerns about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline include:

  • Members of Congress: Dozens of Members of Congress have expressed concern about and opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, beginning with letters from a group of 50 U.S. Representatives in June 2010 and from 12 Senators in October 2010 indicating that the Keystone XL Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was inadequate for a number of reasons – including that it failed to consider the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands and the greenhouse gas emissions from expanded tar sands development. Representative Waxman also wrote to the State Department emphasizing that this pipeline is a multi-billion dollar investment to expand our reliance on the dirtiest source of transportation fuel currently available. Groups of Representatives and Senators once again expressed their concerns in mid-2011 to the Supplemental Draft EIS issued by the State Department, indicating that it still failed to properly address the climate impacts and other issues, and have sent a number of other letters to the White House, the EPA, the State Department, and the Department of Transportation regarding their concerns about the pipeline and its review.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA has also voiced displeasure with the Keystone XL process, and concern about the pipeline’s impacts, as they have twice found the State Department review of the project to be lacking in critical areas. In July of 2010, the EPA gave the Keystone XL Draft EIS the lowest possible rating, indicating that it was insufficient in its climate analysis and its review of the impacts the pipeline would pose to the people and communities in its path. They also noted that there was a lack of understanding of the environmental risks posed by the projects, and not nearly enough information to grasp the risks of spills and how spills would be managed if they were to occur. The EPA had similar findings in 2011 upon reviewing the Supplemental Draft EIS, noting that while the State Department had made some efforts to address concerns from the original review, a comprehensive review of environmental, health, and pipeline safety was still very much lacking.
  • U.S. Mayors: In November 2011, after President Obama called for a new environmental review of Keystone XL, 103 American mayors sent a letter expressing concerns about the impacts to communities from the pipeline to President Obama. The letter included mayors from 28 states, 10 state capitals, and serving a combined population of more than 9 million Americans and followed a March 2011 letter from 25 Mayors and former Mayors to Secretary Clinton opposing the pipeline.
  • Landowners, Farmers and Ranchers: Landowners from Montana to Texas have voiced their complaints about the bully tactics employed by TransCanada in an effort to force families to give up their property rights. In the summer of 2011, the National Farmers Union expressed their concern over the Supplemental Draft EIS , and later submitted a letter asking the Department of State to deny the Presidential Permit for Keystone XL and outlining that any infrastructure that jeopardized the freshwater sources that provided drinking and farming water that landowners depend on would be unacceptable. In response to pressure put on President Obama from a group of pro-industry Senators, last week, a collective of Nebraska residents invited the President to hear their side of the story on a “Beer + Beef Summit” so as to gain a better understanding for how TransCanada’s dirty tar sands pipeline will affect the people in its path.
  • Veterans and Military Officials: In October of 2011, the veterans organization Vote Vets released a statement claiming that TransCanada was being "disingenuous at best" in their claims that the Keystone XL Pipeline was in the interest of national security, and found that KXL would not help us to become energy independent, would not lower oil prices, and would negatively influence the fight against global climate change – an issue that “our own pentagon has said is a top priority.” Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Stephen Anderson – a self-proclaimed conservative Republican who voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election – has also been an opponent of the Keystone XL, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy wrote about why the pipeline is not in the national interest, and he has made it clear that Americans should be outraged about the notion of transporting dirty tar sands through our heartland.
  • Native American Tribes and First Nations: In June, 2011, The National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution to oppose the construction of KXL, as well as oil developed from tar sands. The Congress recognized the risks that a tar sands pipeline poses to the environment, including water sources and wildlife. The United Tribes of North Dakota echoed the NCAI’s resolution with a resolution of their own, stating that Keystone XL is not in the national interest.
  • Unions: The Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transport Union released a joint statement in 2011 to oppose approval of the Keystone XL project, citing, among other factors, rising green house gas emissions and potential impacts to groundwater. The TWU and ATU joined with other unions and environmental groups in issuing a joint statement early in 2012 to praise the Obama administration for overcoming political gamesmanship and refusing to give-in to pressure from House republicans to jam approval of the pipeline through without a full economic and environmental review.
  • Nobel Laureates:  In the fall of 2011, a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, which included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to reject the Keystone XL proposal. They pointed to the environmental risks and dangers that the pipeline posed to water, land, and people while also reminding the President of the campaign promises he made to facilitate moving towards a clean energy economy. The opposition cause was continued when the Nobel Women’s Initiative sent an all-female delegation to Alberta and British Columbia to learn about, and provide a voice for, women that are being affected by tar sands development. 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams was among the delegates, and she and her group released a statement noting not only the extreme environmental impacts of tar sands development, but also the way in which these projects were undermining the basic needs of local women, children, and communities.
  • Scientists: Top climate and environmental scientists including James Hansen, Jim McCarthy, and Ray Pierrehumbert have also written multiple times to express their concerns about the impact increased tar sands expansion will have on the climate – writing to President Obama in August 2011, and urging him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that propagates “environmentally destructive” exploitation of the Canadian tar sands. Ten of these scientists continued their opposition through writing an open letter to the State Department calling for the inclusion of climate change considerations in the review process for the re-proposed pipeline. To omit consideration of climate impacts in the review process, they said, would be “neither wise nor credible.”
  • Celebrities: Several prominent celebrities have spoken out strongly against the Keystone XL tar sands pipelines, through their words and actions, including actor Robert Redford in a powerful February 2011 video op ed and a February 2012 piece on Huffington Post demolishing all of Joe Nocera’s arguments about the supposed national security benefits of Keystone XL. Robert Redford and David Strathairn called on people to come to Washington, DC on November 6, 2011 and join hands around the White House in opposition to Keystone XL. And Actress Darryl Hannah has been arrested twice protesting Keystone XL – in Washington, DC in August 2011 as part of the sit-ins in front of the White House, and more recently in October 2012 protesting the construction of the southern segment of the pipeline alongside 78-year-old landowner Eleanor Fairchild on Eleanor’s property.
  • Businesses and Entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurs and businesses have also made their voices heard in opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. The environmental entrepreneur group E2 has been vocal throughout the process, first writing to Secretary of State Clinton urging for a rigorous review of the environmental and economic impacts of the pipeline, and then calling for the project’s rejection in October of 2011. The Green Business Network and Green Chamber of Commerce also spoke up by sending a letter to President Obama, calling for the rejection of Keystone XL due to its impact on GHG emissions, the risk of oil spills, and the fact that the pipeline would force us to head further down the path of dirty fuel addiction. The American Sustainable Business Council came to similar conclusions, citing unacceptable environmental impacts as well as a lack of economic or energy security benefits, in issuing both a letter (November 2011) and a press release (January 2012) calling for the pipeline proposal to be stopped in its tracks.
  • Investors: In October of 2012, a report was issued outlining the extremely important concerns that 49 investors, with over $2 trillion in assets under management, had about the tar sands industry. Among other things, they demanded a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, better management of risks and harm to both water and land, and an improved meeting of responsibilities in regard to industry’s relationship with, and affect on, First Nations. Not only did this group of industry investors express their worries about these issues, but they believe these performance improvements “should be prioritized ahead of unmitigated growth ambitions” for tar sands development.
  • Faith-Based Organizations: Faith-based organizations have also jointly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, and in the summer of 2011 they voiced this opposition through a letter to Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama. Due to the devastating impacts that the pipeline and associated tar sands extraction would have on both people and land, they expressed their hope that Transcanada would have their proposal rejected, and encouraged government leaders to act.

We – the collective we that encompasses all the people described above – are not done fighting. We – the millions of people who have spoken out against tar sands oil and tar sands pipelines – are going to continue to make our voices heard loud and clear because a clean energy future does not include more and more tar sands. It is time for the State Department to listen to the multitude of people who have written and rallied and protested on this issue, and to get it right when they release the environmental review for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

November 18 2012 Keystone XL rally. Credit: Rocky Kistner, NRDC

November 18, 2012 Keystone XL rally. Credit: Rocky Kistner, NRDC.

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Michael BerndtsonDec 20 2012 02:46 PM

Well done summary and very interesting. One thing that jumped out at me was union support for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. You are correct, there is a labor for sustainability network. Then I went to the website of the union that does construction and principally site preparation and earthwork: The International Brotherhood of Operating Engineers (IBOE). These are the guys that operate bulldozers, drill rigs, excavators, cranes, loaders, etc. IBOE gets somewhat of a pass from union busting industries since the equipment by Caterpillar and others is enormously expensive and requires a well trained operator, which the unions provide.

Here's an example communication on the pipeline from one of the IBOE's locals in support:

David MooreDec 21 2012 10:48 PM

Only reducing, slowing and then stopping tar sands extraction will make a dent in global warming. This carbon is securely stored and must be kept bound up to limit CO2, the ultimate threat to future generations of pople and other species. Good Job!

Bill MorganDec 26 2012 02:01 PM

Very good article. It is important that the full extent of the risks be published and understood. My one criticism, and it is not you but all media, focus more on the science. Most people are reasonable and when presented with the full set of facts, will make the right decision. And please, please leave off the 'celebrity viewpoint'. It diminshes the impact of the facts. Scientists from most major colleges have a duty to report the data without prejucice. Their findings are respected. While having a larger audience, 'celebrities' have no standing in reporting or understanding science. Actors are experts at portraying fiction. Not knocking it, I love movies and the work that actors do, but when you mix them into factual arguments, it creates suspicion of the facts.
Thank you for the article.

ctlDec 27 2012 12:57 PM

Oh and FIXED NEWS told us that it was all Obam's fault because he is a Muslim who hates America. Once again Ruperts tabloids got it wrong.........and no, RUSH is not right.

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