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Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s Blog

House Members say proposed tar sands pipeline will undermine clean energy future

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted June 23, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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Today, 50 Members of Congress raised their voices against the unnecessary risks of tar sands oil expansion into the United States. Led by Jay Inslee (D-WA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), the list also includes Committee Chairs George Miller (Education and Labor),  Barney Frank (Financial Services),  Zoe Lofgren (Standards of Official Conduct), Bob Filner (Veterans' Affairs), and Carolyn Maloney (Joint Economic Committee). Read letter here: June 23 House Letter FINAL.pdf

The Members are speaking out against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would bring this oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. In a letter to Secretary Clinton, the Members warned that “building this pipeline has the potential to undermine America’s clean energy future and international leadership on climate change.”

The Gulf disaster brought home forcibly what we have been saying for a long time: our dependence on oil has outstripped rational behavior and good oversight when it comes to fossil fuels. Clearly many members of Congress are feeling this. In fact, many of the same members on the tar sands pipeline letter just sent a letter yesterday backing legislation to clean up the Gulf, hold BP accountable and enact stronger drilling regulations.

In this morning's press briefing on letter, Rep. Cohen (D-TN) asked if XL stood for "extra large" and said that with the Gulf disaster as a teaching moment we need to be conservative and cautious about other oil-related projects. He said he had serious concerns with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and that he would be sending a letter to the Secretary of Transportation who is responsible for pipeline safety in the United States. Rep. Welch (D-VT) said that a transition to clean energy means a stronger economy and pointed out that we are now spending resources on dealing with the Gulf disaster that should have been spent developing clean energy. NRDC's Executive Director Peter Lehner, who just returned from a trip to the tar sands, said that the pipeline does not make sense – not for economic, security, justice, environmental or social reasons. He said that we can do better and that we need to resist the siren call of a falsely easy answer such as a pipeline that will cause expansion of the dirty and risky tar sands.

Our campaign of several dozen groups in two countries is very pleased to have influential Members of Congress publicly recognizing the importance of the need to reduce our dependence on oil whether it is in the Gulf of Mexico or in the tar sands. Tar sands is a top tier issue in Canada and in climate circles internationally, but this is the “coming out” of this issue inside the Beltway. In the past, transboundary tar sands pipelines were treated as a routine permit process by the State Department. However, it is now being recognized that given the commitment of the United States to build a clean energy economy and fight climate change, a major new investment in the risky and dirty tar sands oil must be evaluated seriously at the highest levels for consistency with national energy policy goals as outlined by President Obama in his speech about the Gulf oil disaster.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline should not be built. It is unnecessary and will mean further expansion of tar sands oil production. What is more, the pipeline company is asking for safety waivers that once again will mean an oil company cutting corners to save costs. We do not want to put the main freshwater source of America’s heartland at risk of a tar sands oil spill, further endangering public health and the livelihood of communities to benefit big oil.

John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress and White House chief of staff to President Clinton, speaking yesterday at an oil industry event on the tar sands, said the “hurried approval” of the pipeline would “undermine” the administration’s mission of making investment in “clean domestic energy sources” and transitioning away from fossil fuels. This letter from House Members comes in the wake of other voices calling that the pipeline be stopped including business leaders from across the country. We can expect to hear more voices as the Administration weighs the national interest of this tar sands pipeline.

The disaster in the Gulf reminds us every day – as it will for some time to come – that we can and must do better. That the era of easy to access and cheap oil is over.  The U.S. and Canada should work together to put in place clean energy policies that will help us harness the wind and the sun – sources of energy that will never run out – and to set an example to the rest of the world.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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