Year 4, Month 5, Day 22: Just You, Just Me

The Houston Chronicle offers space to a petroleum-industry shill:

The environmentalist activist community has a new Public Enemy No. 1: Keystone XL. That’s the proposed 1,200-mile pipeline linking Canadian oil fields to Texas refineries. The project is up for debate at the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology this week – the latest in what is now a four-year-long national debate on the project. The facts have become nearly smothered by the small but vocal opposition, but the fact is the Keystone XL pipeline offers a safe, efficient and affordable means of transporting the resources our nation needs.

Block the Keystone XL pipeline and Americans are going to see a nation that is less energy-secure, an economic recovery further stymied and prospects for growth jeopardized. Perhaps most important for the activists who oppose it – a vastly increased chance for spills and other environmental incidents.

While the debate that surrounds the Keystone XL pipeline has been continuous for years, opponents to the transcontinental energy initiative coalesced early on in the process.

Unburdened by facts and uninterested in offering arguments to support their positions, opponents to Keystone XL have been willing to lob unsupported claim after unsubstantiated attack over and over again.

Lost in all of this rhetorical wind? The most salient fact: If Keystone XL is blocked, America’s demand for oil will remain undiminished, and so, too, will the appetite to develop the Canadian oil resources that opponents of the pipeline deride.

I just dashed this off in a state of dudgeon, and it shows. Busy busy busy today. May 11:

Michael Economides’ writing in support of the Keystone XL pipeline is a textbook example of rhetorical contortion in the service of an addiction. The “dilbit” (diluted bitumen oil) from the Alberta tar sands needs both higher pressure and temperature to flow through pipelines — factors linked to increased corrosion and rupture. That the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn’t connect pipeline failures to tar sands oil only underlines that causality is complex. In fact, pipelines in the Midwest that move this sort of heavy crude have spilled almost four times more per pipeline mile than the U.S. average. The recent disasters in Arkansas and Kalamazoo both involved dilbit. It’s terrible stuff, and the only way to keep it safe is to leave it in the ground.

The underlying assumption in Mr. Economides’ piece is that our national oil habit cannot, must not, will not change — and therefore our energy economy has no choice but to feed our craving for a fossil-fuel fix. Spoken like a pusher. There are plenty of alternatives, but none that offer Mr. Economides the perquisites he so obviously relishes as a mouthpiece of the fossil fuel industry.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 21: The Conservative Id, Yes, The Conservative Id

We have a minority vice-president. WaPo:

Environmentalists have seized on a comment Vice President Biden made while working a rope line in Columbia, S.C., on Friday, in which he told an activist he is “in the minority” within the administration when it comes to opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Elaine Cooper, who serves on the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s South Caroline chapter, said in an interview Wednesday that Biden shared his thoughts with her during Rep. James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) annual fish fry.

Buzzfeed first reported the vice president’s remarks late Tuesday, based on an e-mail a colleague of Cooper had sent to fellow environmentalists.

Cooper, who was wearing a black-and-white leather hat, said she attracted the vice president’s attention and was able to ask him about the controversial proposal to ship heavy crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast.

” ‘Sir, do you support rejecting the Keystone pipeline?’ ” Cooper recalled asking Biden. “And he responded, ‘Yes, I do support rejecting the Keystone pipeline, but I’m in the minority.’ And he smiled back at me.”

Good for Joe. How about good for us? May 9:

It’s an enduring irony: in a corporatized political system, the only position in government offering almost complete freedom of expression is the one John Nance Garner so memorably characterized as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Vice-Presidents have for years expressed their constituents’ true sentiments in ways that chief executives cannot; think of Nixon under Eisenhower, and Spiro Agnew’s turn as “Nixon’s Nixon” a decade later, the voice of the conservative American id.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, channels our collective superego, as witness his emergence as an eloquent and compassionate advocate of marriage equality. Nowhere is Mr. Biden’s finely-honed moral sensibility more evident than in his recent outspoken opposition to that planetary disaster-in-the-making, the Keystone XL pipeline. Unlike some who’ve held his office, Joe Biden elevates the vice-presidency with an eloquent expression of the better angels of our nature. Let’s hope he has the president’s ear.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 20: My Biggest Mistake Was Loving You Too Much

Even Forbes Magazine thinks the KXL is a disaster in the making:

With over 16,000 sensors tied to automatic shut-offs, the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (as in Xtra-Large) is not your father’s pipeline. However, it’s still a pipeline, and the long history of ruptures, leaks, spills and other “incidents” call attention to the problems that face all pipelines in America.

We just don’t maintain them like we should.

And it’s the same for all critical infrastructure. The corporations that build and operate this infrastructure talk about all the bells and whistles they have to make them safe, and promise to do so, but history says differently. Decades after these things are built, the industry just doesn’t care anymore.

It’s not that these pipelines and rigs can’t be run safely, it’s that they aren’t. Maybe the managers and operators who originally built them once cared, but after they’ve retired or died, the new managers don’t have the same ownership.

Hippie. May 7:

Whether it’s coal or oil, the core mentality underlying fossil fuel is essentially simple-minded: make a hole in the ground and burn the stuff that comes out. When your goal is to enrich your investors, then it’s good business to transfer the costs and consequences of leaks, spills, collapses, and containment failures to ordinary people, who’ll take care of it with their tax dollars. Furthermore, given the short attention span of most citizens, TransCanada and other pipeline promoters have nothing to lose by downplaying the risks and inflating the benefits of projects like the Keystone XL — and nothing to gain by making huge investments in safety, infrastructure, and maintenance.

As a path to riches, it’s not complicated — but as a way to encourage good citizenship, it’s a failure. As the climate crisis intensifies, the extractive industries can no longer ignore the grave moral dimensions of their environmental irresponsibility.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 13: You Can’t Spell Exaggerations And Lies Without X and L

The Chicago Tribune runs an op-ed strongly advocating approval of the KXL. Because fuck the facts, bitches. It’s all about FREEDOM.

President Barack Obama has a big decision to make about this nation’s economic future. The call is an easy one, and it’s long overdue.

The president should approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the rich oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to U.S. refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Last Friday evening, 17 Democrats joined all of the U.S. Senate’s Republicans in urging Obama to do just that. The 62-37 vote was nonbinding but signaled bipartisan frustration with the administration’s reluctance to approve the project.

The president is expected to make a decision by this summer. He rejected a Keystone plan a year ago, in the midst of his re-election campaign. That was applauded by some environmental groups and angered the Canadian government. But the most significant impact was this: It kept Americans from getting good-paying jobs.

They’re hardly even trying anymore.

Leaving aside the thousands of short-term construction jobs guaranteed to last exactly as long as it takes to build a segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, we can anticipate a hundred times that number in the long term. For example, the demand for toxic waste mitigation and cleanup experts will spike hugely along the pipeline’s route — not to mention the need for more oncologists, pharmacists, and medical support staff. And let’s not forget funeral directors!

Complex legal actions are guaranteed to proliferate, and no matter who “wins” a civil action against a Canada-based multinational corporation which inadvertently destroyed a region’s water supply, lawyers on both sides will profit hugely.

But the corporate consultants who wrote the State Department’s environmental impact statement say there’s nothing to worry about — a “fact” that’s probably a surprise to citizens of Arkansas and Utah whose communities have recently been devastated by pipeline leaks.

It is indeed an easy call to make.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 17: The Immortal Sociopaths Care Not For Your Puny Human Concerns

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports on the how-fucked-up-is-that Environmental Impact statement on the Keystone XL that recently plopped out of the State Department:

The State Department’s recent conclusion that the Keystone XL pipeline “is unlikely to have a substantial impact” on the rate of Canada’s oil sands development was based on analysis provided by two consulting firms with ties to oil and pipeline companies that could benefit from the proposed project.

EnSys Energy has worked with Exxon Mobil, BP and Koch Industries, which own oil sands production facilities and refineries in the Midwest that process heavy Canadian crude oil.

Imperial Oil, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, is a subsidiary of Exxon.

ICF International works with pipeline and oil companies but doesn’t list specific clients on its website. It declined to comment on the Keystone, referring questions to the State Department.

EnSys President Martin Tallett said he couldn’t talk about the proposed pipeline, but he pointed out that in addition to working for the oil industry, his company works for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department and the World Bank.

“We don’t do advocacy,” Tallett said. “Our goal is to tell it like it is, to tell the way we see it. … If we were the pet of government agencies or oil companies, the other side wouldn’t come to us.”

The State Department did not respond to questions about the 2,000-page environmental impact statement it released Friday.

And then we have this:

The State Department’s “don’t worry” environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, released late Friday afternoon, was written not by government officials but by a private company in the pay of the pipeline’s owner. The “sustainability consultancy” Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document. The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline’s massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable.

Move along, move along. Nothin’ to see here. Sent March 7:

While the State Department’s statement on the exploitation of the Canadian tar sands is flawed, the real problem is that the document was produced in a fundamentally dishonest way. It turns out that TransCanada, the corporation behind the Keystone XL project, paid a private “consulting” firm called ERM (Environmental Resources Management) to write the findings, which claim that since the extraction of tar sands oil is inevitable, the environmental damage caused by the pipeline can simply be ignored. The statement also asserts that the giant pipeline will be safe from the effects of climate change — which, given the massive climate impact of the tar sands oil, is a breathtaking combination of folly, hypocrisy and hubris.

Fossil fuel companies already have a hugely disproportionate degree of influence on our government, but TransCanada’s self-insertion in the State Department’s analysis is grotesque even by these standards. While it’s lucky for them that corporate “persons” are incapable of embarrassment or shame, it’s not such a good deal for the rest of us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 13: Oh, All Right. Go Ahead And Have Your Apocalypse, But Don’t Expect Me To Bring Snacks

Aw, gimme a fuckin’ break. The Washington Post:

The State Department released a draft environmental impact assessment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline Friday, suggesting that the project would have little impact on climate change.

Canada’s oil sands will be developed even if President Obama denies a permit to the pipeline connecting the region to Gulf Coast refineries, the analysis said. Such a move also would not alter U.S. oil consumption, the report added.

The lengthy assessment did not give environmentalists the answer they had hoped for in the debate over the project’s climate impact. Opponents say a presidential rejection of the project would send a powerful message to the world about the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and make it more difficult for Canada to export its energy-intensive oil.

There aren’t enough faces and enough palms. March 2:

As a former smoker, President Obama should know how hard it is to overcome a powerful addiction. He is also undoubtedly familiar with the countless rationalizations smokers use to avoid coming to terms with their dependency. “One more won’t hurt,” “my grandfather smoked and he lived to be 97,” “it helps me relax,” and “I don’t have time to quit right now” — all these and more have analogical equivalents in the arguments currently being presented for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Our nation’s addiction to oil and coal is profoundly damaging to our planet’s health; the State Department’s risible dismissal of the pipeline’s climate change impact sounds remarkably like a carton-a-day smoker’s raspy contempt for the oncologist’s warning. The dirty crude of the Canadian tar sands needs to stay in the ground for the same reason that countless smokers have finally overcome their dependency: because life is preferable to the alternative.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 12: Bad Guys Finish, Period.

More on the Keystone Clusterf**k, from the West Virginia Gazette:

President Obama hasn’t publicly drawn a connection between climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline, but new pressure is building on him and other officials to connect those dots.

Protests are springing up from Maine to Washington, D.C., to Oklahoma urging leaders to stop the Keystone XL and other oil sands import projects on climate change grounds. The Texas-bound Keystone XL is the biggest of many projects being proposed to connect Canada’s oil sands to U.S. refineries and export ports. Protesters claim the pipelines would commit the United States and other countries to a form of heavy oil that would worsen global warming.

On Jan. 26, some 1,400 people marched through Portland, Maine, against possible plans to move oil from Canada’s tar sands mines to local ports for export. Days earlier, hundreds of people joined solidarity rallies across New England and in Canada, where they picketed outside gas stations, locked arms along bridges, and hoisted signs that read “Tar Sands (equals) Game Over for Climate.” On Monday, indigenous rights activists in Texas and Oklahoma filled public squares to show support for efforts by Canada’s First Nations to block oil sands growth.

“We’re trying to build the social movement” against expansion of tar sands oil extraction, said Sophie Robinson, who organized events through the Massachusetts chapter of, a grassroots organization that focuses on climate change.

I’m gonna keep recycling the “this ain’t no game” trope till it gets some traction. February 4:

Whether it’s the inevitable spillage and aquifer contamination, the vast acreage of forests destroyed, the reinforcement of a global fossil-fuel addiction, or the devastating impact the Tar Sands oil will make on the already accelerating greenhouse effect, there can be no doubt that the Keystone XL pipeline project is a collection of disasters waiting to happen. But “game over for the climate,” a phrase popular among anti-pipeline activists, gives a misleading picture of what those disasters will do to North America and the world.

The after-effects of a game are limited to the playing field. If your team loses, just wait for next week, or next month, or next year. But more and more scientists are realizing with alarm that the possible consequences of a 4-degree centigrade increase in planetary temperature may include a complete collapse of the agriculture upon which our lives depend. The introduction of Tar Sands oil into the consumption chain will speed that increase, possibly irrevocably.

Earth’s climate is no game, and when it’s over, there’s no rematch, no mulligan, no “wait for next year,” no reset button. It’s just finished — and so are we. President Obama must block the Keystone XL.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 2: Block That Kick!

The Washington Post runs an AP story on John Kerry’s stance on climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline:

In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said that American foreign policy “is defined by life-threatening issues like climate change,” along with political unrest in Africa and human trafficking across the globe. Kerry, the panel’s outgoing chairman, has made the issue of global warming central to his career in public service. The Massachusetts Democrat has traveled repeatedly to international climate negotiations and pushed in the Senate — unsuccessfully — for a limit on national greenhouse gas emissions.

Later this year, the State Department must decide whether to grant TransCanada a presidential permit to build the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline extension, which would carry heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to America’s Gulf Coast refineries. Climate activists warn that the project would be devastating to the planet, while proponents say it would boost the nation’s energy security and generate short-term construction jobs.

We’ll see about that. Sent January 26:

Given his record of respect for evidence and expertise, John Kerry’s acceptance of the scientific consensus on climate change is unsurprising. Conservatives arguing that action on global warming is too expensive operate from a stance of multiple denial: they reject the climate science substantiating the greenhouse effect’s dangerous consequences, they reject the economic evidence that investment in clean energy and sound environmental practices are net positives for job creation, and they reject the fact that a significant majority of Americans recognize that climate change is a problem with huge repercussions for our nation and the world. It’s no accident that these same fact-rejecting politicians are the ones advocating strongly for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project whose likely contribution to climate change could well tip the balance from disastrous to catastrophic.

As Secretary of State and as a member of the “reality-based community,” Mr. Kerry must block the pipeline project.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 31: Don’t Mention The War!

The Toronto Star reflects on the Keystone XL:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, joined by 10 U.S. governors, released a letter recently urging President Barack Obama to swiftly approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

As always, the argument is simple, and narrowly framed: 1. Canada has a lot of oil and the U.S. needs oil. 2. We don’t have enough pipeline capacity to handle our ambition for unconstrained growth in oilsands production. 3. Building the pipeline will create jobs.

What could be simpler? Nothing — as long as you pretend climate change doesn’t exist and don’t make it part of the conversation.

Post-Hurricane Sandy and scorching heat waves in the mid-west, that’s becoming a less tenable argument, at least in the U.S. In his second inaugural address, Obama called attention to the need for action on climate change, calling for America to lead the transition to sustainable energy sources. It’s an important reminder that we need to look at the issue through a different frame, one that pipeline project proponents and many in government are trying hard to avoid.

Scientists are telling us that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2017 and drop drastically by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) — a leading voice on energy research and analysis of which Canada is a member — recently reported that unless we change course, by 2017 the energy infrastructure will be in place to produce the emissions that will take us across the 2°C warming threshold. The U.S. and Canada (under our current federal government), along with many other countries, have agreed to work to avoid crossing this threshold, the point at which our climate may become seriously destabilized. Furthermore, the IEA tells us that, to stay under 2°C warming, two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.

Never mention the CC word. Ever. Sent January 24:

The economic arguments for exploiting the tar sands — oil is cheap; society needs that energy to continue economic growth — are analogous to the self-serving rationalizations of addicts everywhere.

Oil’s always been expensive; we’ve just left its significant costs for our descendants to pay. Neither post-extraction cleanup or public health impacts are usually included in our calculations — and, of course, the catastrophic consequences of accelerating climate change must never be mentioned or considered.

The economic growth argument is a failure both on intellectual (we live on a finite planet) and moral (recall Edward Abbey’s statement that growth for its own sake is “the ideology of the cancer cell”) grounds.

The Keystone pipeline’s not just a single disaster in the making, but multiple disasters on different scales of size and time. For the sake of our posterity, the Tar Sands oil must stay in the ground.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 11, Day 23: All Of The Heavies Were Light As A Feather

The Pasadena Star’s Steve Cauzillo wonders about our President’s taste for the fight:

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
-President Barack Obama, Nov. 14, 2012

THE president has been sending signals on the environment like policy test balloons. He mentioned climate change twice since re-election, once during his victory speech and during a press conference at the White House.

Though he was cautious to say the inordinate number of freak storms lately (i.e., Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast) can’t be traced with cause-and- effect accuracy to climate change, he did confirm his belief that the globe is getting warmer. He and 98 percent of all the scientists in the world agree that humans contribute to global warming, mostly due to industrialization which produces more greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Of course, the next four years will be about avoiding the fiscal cliff, fixing tax policies, lowering the deficit and creating an economy in which employers can expand and new businesses can sprout.

But, even in that context, Obama told the press that much has been accomplished to reduce energy use. Cars are getting better gas mileage due to stricter standards. Wind, solar and biomass plants are opening up to provide electrical energy.

“If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support,” said the president.

Now we’re talking.

We shall see. Sent November 18:

While the President often talks a good game on climate issues, it is often disturbingly evident that other members of his staff regard them as irrelevant distractions — presumably from the economic questions that dominate the news cycle and the rhetoric of the President’s conservative adversaries. Mr. Obama’s apparent renewal of commitment to addressing climate change can have no more definitive test than his approval or rejection of the disastrous Keystone XL project.

Keystone is catastrophic on multiple levels of scale. The destruction of millions of acres of boreal forest in order to exploit Canada’s tar sands is already an environmental blunder of huge proportions. Transporting the filthy oil across the US offers the potential for hundreds of local and regional disasters from leaks and contaminated aquifers — and, or course, burning all that oil will send the greenhouse effect into a drastic runaway zone from which recovery may be impossible. If President Obama allows the pipeline project to proceed, we will know that his commitment to the fight against global warming is inadequate to the magnitude of the crisis.

Warren Senders