Thursday, January 31, 2013
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The message from Portland was loud and clear. New England wants nothing to do with planet-wrecking tar sands.”
~ Jim Murphy, National Wildlife Foundation
In this issue:
- Public discontent surges as march on White House looms
- The tune has changed but the song remains the same
- First Nations sign historic Protecting the Sacred Treaty
- Enbridge losing hearing battle by a landslide
Jim Murphy left his warm bed in the below-zero dark so he could get a run in before marching off to defend the planet against the dangers of tar sands oil. He was not alone. When Murphy arrived in downtown Portland, Maine, he found himself surrounded by more than a thousand people who shared his desire to just say “NO!” to a proposal by oil giants Enbridge and Exxon to use a 62-year-old pipeline to transport dirty, carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada into Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
“The message from Portland was loud and clear,” he wrote in a National Wildlife Foundation blog post. “New England wants nothing to do with planet-wrecking tar sands.”
The protest, which was part of the Tar Sands Free Northeast Campaign, far exceeded the organizers’ expectations. Fifteen hundred people braved brutally cold weather to demand that politicians reject tar sands oil in favor of pursing a clean energy future. Speaker after speaker, including Portland’s Mayor Mike Brennan, called on policymakers to get serious about climate change and say eschew dirty fuels, and “move aggressively towards an energy future we can proudly pass along to the next generation,” Murphy said.
Portland, Maine is one of an increasing number of American communities growing increasingly uneasy about revamping old pipelines and building new ones (like Keystone XL) so tar sands oil can be piped to U.S. ports and shipped overseas. Three days after Portland, the scene was repeated in Vermont, where yet more citizens demanded that the same pipeline proposal be subjected to Vermont law and allow Vermonters the ability to reject this pipeline project.
It’s not just angry environmentalists who oppose the expansion of tar sands infrastructure. The increasingly shrill outcry from the public has emboldened American politicians to strengthen their stances on dirty oil and the pipelines that would ferry it across the lower 48 states. Congresswoman Pingree, who also spoke at the Portland rally, wants an environmental review of any proposal to bring tar sands crude through Maine, while ranking U.S. Representative Henry Waxman has been even more outspoken.
“My opposition to the [Keystone XL] pipeline has intensified as the scientific evidence mounts that the impacts of both climate change and the pipeline itself are likely to be even worse than we have expected. Using tar sands produces far more carbon pollution than conventional oil. That means a massive expansion of tar sands production is a huge step backwards on climate when the imperative of moving forward on climate has never been clearer. I have opposed this reckless project from the beginning and I continue to strongly urge the President to reject it.”
The growing numbers of people from all walks of life participating in a growing number of protests indicates that there is a growing acceptance of the need for public demonstrations – even civil disobedience – to decrease our reliance on such dirty fuels. Even the Sierra Club, which has never supported such quasi-legal means of fostering change, is getting in on the action.
“For 120 years, we have remained committed to using every ‘lawful means’ to achieve our objectives. Now, for the first time in our history, we are prepared to go further,” wrote Sierra Club president Michael Brune recently in Huff Po. “Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance” at the White House, to let President Barak Obama that the stakes are so high that he must, in the end, reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
The act to which Brune refers is the Forward on Climate Rally scheduled for President’s Day (Sunday, February 17) in Washington, D.C. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Americans will gather on the National Mall at noon before marching to the White House to address President Obama. From rejecting the toxic Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to limiting carbon pollution from our nation's dirty power plants, moving beyond coal and natural gas, and firing up our clean energy economy, Barack Obama's legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis. That's why the Forward On Climate Rally will feature critical action, inspiring speakers, and a march to the president's doorstep to show him that we can't afford to wait any longer.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
For decades the tar sands industry assured Canadians that they were not polluting the forests and rivers in northeast Alberta. When scientific evidence indicated in 2010 this was not entirely true, industry’s response was to ignore the research, condemn the scientists, and repeat, ad nauseum, the party line: We’re not polluting.
But as the results of yet another research project, this one funded and abetted by Environment Canada, came to light early this month, Big Oil’s tune has changed, though it is unclear whether anything else will.
“The oilsands are a large industrial development and it will have impact on the land and water,” Travis Davies, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, told the Edmonton Journal. “We need to identify the issues that are occurring in the environment and better understand the risk.”
“Industry needs to take the data and analyze it and see how it relates to what they are doing,” added Eric Newell, former CEO of Syncrude and one-time chancellor of the University of Alberta. “Companies need to realize that it is not a PR battle they are fighting…. The issue is how to continue production to meet rapidly growing demand, and at the same time reduce environmental impacts. And that is where technology comes in.”
While the belated admission of guilt is refreshing, the attitudes lurking in the subtext indicates that, at least in the short-term, significant improvements in managing impacts are unlikely. Davies’ “you’ve got to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet” indicates that industry’s messaging strategy has shifted from one of “no impact” to “small but acceptable impact.” Newell, on the other hand, believes production should continue, even increase, and that technology will solve any problems.
But it hasn’t so far, and things are likely going to get worse before they get better. “All you have to do is some back-of-the-envelope calculating to realize there could be significant problems if production increases 150 per cent over the next 15 years,” John Smol, a professor of biology at Queen’s University and the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, told the Journal. Smol is lead author on the most recent research, which found toxic carcinogens in lakes as far as a 100 kilometres away. “The scenario we are presenting is not very good. It’s not just that industry is releasing 40-odd PAHs, the footprint is bigger than that. Undoubtedly, there is a cocktail of stuff going out. And once they are out there, it’s like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube. It’s a real mess to clean up.”
What about the politicians? They seem to have adopted the same messaging as their oil industry partners. Peter Kent, Canada’s illustrious federal environment minister, took the CAPP track. “The results of the study confirm what the scientific community across the board has been telling us. When civilization and industrial development occurs, there are consequences.”
“We have always known there were certain levels of contaminants,” said Randall Barrett, northern regional director for Alberta’s environment ministry, ignoring dozens of public statements to the contrary by Alberta government officials. “But what is happening now is that we are able to distinguish more incremental change from those natural levels.”
The question is, what are they going to do with the new information? “You are supposed to learn from monitoring and use it in environmental management,” said the Pembina Institute’s Simon Dyer in the same Journal article. “You don’t monitor for monitoring’s sake. I think given the obvious impacts in the oilsands and the evidence that things are going to continue to get worse, we need to use that information to improve the way we manage…. Clearly, it is likely that we are going to see more evidence of environmental damage and more opposition to the oilsands. Unfortunately, I think there is more conflict ahead.”
More than 150 representatives of First Nations and Native American tribes gathered in South Dakota last weekend, on the the 150th anniversary of the peace treaty between the Pawnee and the Yankton Sioux nations, to sign another one: the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands Development.
According to the Vancouver Observer, hereditary chief of the Ihanktonwan First Nation Phil Lane Jr. said the treaty reinforces First Nations obligations to defend the environment based on ancient laws, now and into the future. “This is part of a much larger global campaign called Protect the Sacred,” he said. “The sacred is not limited to stopping tar sands projects. It’s a global Indigenous movement with allies around the world that are going to focus very specifically on issues that are negatively impacting Mother Earth and Indigenous peoples and humanity, all members of the human family.”
The treaty includes seven articles, and outlines First Nations’ history of sovereign self-government and legal rights to traditional land, as well as the commitment between all the signatory nations to enforce and uphold their collective responsibility to protect their lands. It demands that the governments of both Canada and the United States recognize those rights, citing the section 32 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.
“We’re covering the Enbridge pipeline and the Keystone XL and the tar sands,” Chief Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in BC. It’s great to be part of it to organize our relations who feel the same way all along the Keystone route.”
Echoing the sentiments of the Idle No More movement, Lane said this is ultimately about uniting the whole of the human family and recognizing that protecting the land and the water is the responsibility of all peoples. “We’re binding together to protect one another from the tar sands project across the United States and Canada. The violation of the sovereignty of one nation in Canada is the violation of all our sovereignty across the United States,” he said. “There are no borders.”
CLENING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
Even as Canadians overwhelming oppose Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline at the Joint Review Panel hearings, the besieged company is resisting calls to finish cleaning up the mess it made in the Kalamazoo River.
Two and a half years ago, a leak in an Enbridge pipeline spilled more than a million gallons of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in what has become the costliest pipeline spill in U.S. history. The cleanup tools and techniques developed for conventional oil spills—which mostly float on water—are ineffective for submerged bitumen, which remains on the river bottom to this day.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Enbridge to dredge the river so the remaining bitumen is removed before it moves downstream to pollute other stretches of the river. Enbridge has so far refused.
Instead, it is focusing its efforts to build the Northern Gateway pipeline across B.C. As the JRP hearings come to a close, it’s worth taking stock of who said what about Enbridge’s controversial pipeline during the year-long process. It’s clear that Enbridge got creamed. On Vancouver Island, 341 people opposed the project to just one who spoke in favour. In Northern BC, the score was even more lopsided, with 511 in opposition and only one I favour.
Scorecards for the Vancouver and Kelowna hearings will be announced shortly, but the numbers are unlikely to change. As far as the public is concerned, the “nays” far outweigh the (almost nonexistent) “yays”.
Tagged with: the dirt