Thursday, November 15, 2012
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"The climate silence is broken, and now the President can show us he's serious with a decision already on his desk: rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.”
~ May Boeve, executive director, 350.org
In this issue:
- Obama Urged to Kill Keystone XL
- Federal government Leaves Public in the Dark Over Tar Sands Pollution
- Another Tar Sands Project Shelved
- Federal Government Confirms First Nations Could Stop Tar Sands Development
- Opposition Grows Against Line 9 Reversal
- NDP Leader Says No to BC Pipelines
Now that U.S. President Barak Obama is comfortably back in the Oval Office, with time to think about what to do about the problem of global warming, the climate movement is paying Obama another visit to remind him there is no room for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline in a climate-warmed United States.
The KXL pipeline proposal is wounded but not quite dead yet, so 350.org has invited America to descend on the White House on Sunday, March 18, to put another nail in KXL’s coffin. Following on the heels of the August 2011 protest at the White House, where more than a thousand people put their bodies on the line and got arrested outside the White House to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, Sunday’s event looks to be yet another illustration of how strong, committed and diverse the climate movement has become. Authors, professors, lawyers, activists, scientists, policy wonks, grandmothers and grandfathers, teachers and people from all walks of life have already signed up to just say no to Keystone XL.
The climate movement and the younger voters at its heart were crucial in re-electing Obama, and they have identified his pending decision on KXL as a symbol of his legacy as a climate leader. “President Obama made several statements today in his news conference about his willingness to tackle the climate crisis,” said May Boeve in a Nov. 14 press statement. "The climate silence is broken, and now the President can show us he's serious with a decision already on his desk: rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would unlock so much carbon that climate scientists say … it would be ‘game over’ for the climate. The president can stop this dangerous pipeline with his pen, and if he does, the American people will support him. This pipeline is not in the national interest.”
The Nov. 18 Stop KXL protest is just the latest event by a U.S. climate movement that is more united than ever in its resolve to beat back Big Oil and take back our future. Bill McKibben has already got the message, and has teamed up with 350.org for the historic Do the Math Tour that is crisscrossing the United States to sold-out audiences.
After sold-out shows in Seattle, Portland, Berkley and Palo Alto, Do the Math descended on the City of Angels, where The Nation reported that, “one hundred chanting, marching students attended the UCLA event from the Claremont Colleges, fifty miles away, to announce their campaign to seek a campus divestment from the ‘rogue’ fossil fuel industry. Already this week Seattle’s mayor instructed his finance team to investigate how to divest city funds, and Maine’s Unity College announced its plan to divest.”
According to The Nation, “the twenty-one-city tour promises to be a model for progressives committed to aggressively pushing Obama and Congress even before Obama’s second term formally begins in January.”
While Do the Math makes its way down the Eastern Seaboard, communities all over the world have joined in solidarity to support the Tar Sands Blockade, a group of protestors who have been risking arrest (and worse) in East Texas to prevent the construction the southern leg of the Keystone XL. From Nov. 17 to 20, communities from London, England to Salt Lake City, Utah will be holding 40 solidarity actions to defend people and the planet from dirty energy and climate change.
“It’s encouraging to see these solidarity actions spring up across the globe in response to the escalating devastation of climate change,” said Nicole Browne of Tar Sands Blockade, who helped put out the call for the solidarity actions. “From the Alberta tar sands to the forests of East Texas and all around the world, these actions give hope to people everywhere who are defending their homes from reckless energy extraction that is fueling climate chaos.”
The increased intensity of opposition to Keystone XL and fossil fuels in general should come as no surprise, as increasing numbers of Americans believe energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, not dirty oil and more pipelines, are the future of energy independence in the U.S. According to Think Progress, a new poll by Zogby Analytics shows very strong support for renewable energy and minimal support for the Keystone pipeline among centrist voters.
The poll, which was released by the National Wildlife Federation, indicates that independent voters would choose renewable energies like wind and solar over Keystone XL by a 4-1 margin. Only 12 percent chose Keystone XL as a priority. And among all voters surveyed across party lines, renewables received twice the support as fossil fuels.
This is critical, because the status quo would mean climate catastrophe for Americans and the rest of the planet. A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that current policies would result in a surge of dirty energy production in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere over the coming decades, which is very bad news for the climate. According to the IEA’s new World Energy Outlook, the U.S. is poised to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, and by 2030, North America will start exporting more oil than it imports.
However, this scenario, the IEA warns, would make it impossible to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold the scientific community believes will give us a 50-50 chance to avoid climate catastrophe. Indeed, the IEA confirms what McKibben and 350.org have been saying for months: no more than one-third of the proven fossil fuel reserves should be used by 2050 if we’re going to keep climate change in check. The report also confirms that by 2035, we’ll be committed to a 6.5 degree Fahrenheit (3.6 degrees Celsius) rise in global temperature.
“The report confirms that, given the current policies, we will blow past every safe target for emissions,” Michael A. Levi, senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The New York Times. “This should put to rest the idea that the boom in natural gas will save us from that.”
But public opinion, the specter of runaway climate change, and an honest accounting of the facts has never prevented the Canadian government from pushing relentlessly for more tar sands infrastructure. Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver continues to claim, against all the evidence, that Obama should approve Keystone XL because it is “clearly in the U.S. national interest in terms of national security, jobs (and) economic growth.” These rationalizations have largely been debunked. Keystone XL will not create a meaningful number of jobs, and it will not improve energy independence or national security in the U.S., because the dirty oil it will ferry to the Gulf Coast will be exported to Asia. (Even Suncor vice-president of investor relations Steve Douglas admitted recently that Keystone XL will largely deliver oil for export, not American energy independence and security.) If anything, it will hurt the U.S. economy, because it will lead to an increase in the price of gasoline.
The IEA report confirms, once again, that energy efficiency, not more oil consumption, is necessary to curb emissions in the short-term. This would give the world a last-ditch window to quickly develop a meaningful climate change strategy. In the long-term, the IEA maintains that we need to invest heavily in the transition away from dirty fuels like coal and tar sands, and toward a clean energy future fuelled by alternative energy sources.
Perhaps Clean Break, a new book about how German’s transition to clean energy, can be a guidebook for Canada and the U.S. to get off the dirty oil gravy train. Germany has built the clean energy economy the U.S. rejected 30 years ago, and which Canada has never even considered.
You would have thought the U.S., a country founded on the ideal of independence, would have beat the Germans to the clean energy independence finish line. But there is still time, if not to beat the Germans (again), then at least to set us on the right path to catch up. What say you, Obama? Are you up for the challenge?
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
It comes as no surprise to David Schindler that federal government scientists have confirmed that tar sands mines and upgraders are polluting the land and water in the tar sands region. Scientists from Environment Canada found contaminants on the bottom of remote lakes up to 100 kilometres from tar sands development, toxins that had been accumulating for decades.
In 2010, Schindler and his colleagues reported that their research had found airborne heavy metals and other pollutants from tar sands operations up to 50 kilometres away. “That means the footprint is four times bigger than we found,” Schindler, an aquatic scientist at the University of Alberta, told The Calgary Herald.
The research team, led by Environment Canada scientist Jane Kirk, also found that snow within 50 kilometres of tar sands operations is contaminated with a long list of “priority pollutants,” including a neurotoxin that “bioaccumulates” in food webs. Kirk’s colleague, Joanne Parrott, discovered that melt water from snow collected near tar sands plants is toxic to newly hatched minnows in the lab.
What is surprising is that the federal government has prevented its scientists from presenting their findings to the Canadian public or the media. The findings, which were already in the hands of Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent, were presented at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference in November, 2011, but a federal document recently released as part of a freedom of information request indicates that the scientists could not speak to the media about their results. “If scientists are approached for interviews at the conference,” the document said, “the EC communications policy will be followed by referring the journalist to the media relations ... phone number. An appropriate spokesperson will then be identified depending on journalist questions."
The document also provided a scripted list of answers that explained researchers had tested the toxicity of the Athabasca River water in the spring of 2010 with negative results, and also that no link was established between levels of contaminants found and effects on fish.
As of Nov. 17, 2012, more than two years after Schindler and his colleagues confirmed that tar sands developments were polluting the land and water, neither the federal nor Alberta government websites, nor the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers website, mentions these research findings.
Estimates from Alberta government officials indicate it will take anywhere from six months to two years for the new independent monitoring agency to begin its monitoring work. Meanwhile, tar sands development continues apace, and new developments continue to be licensed, approved, and constructed.
Alberta MLA and NDP environment critic Rachel Notley said Environment Canada’s research should be a wake-up call for the province to immediately impose tougher air quality standards on the tar sands industry. “I personally think every time another one of these reports come out, it’s yet another reminder of a gargantuan breach of trust between this (federal) government and the Conservative government of Alberta,” Notley told The Edmonton Journal. “What should be happening is the government is immediately imposing more aggressive standards around air quality measures and air quality control measures.”
Not all is rosy in the big, black Tar Patch, however. Lack of pipeline capacity and a glut of shale oil in the United States has forced another tar sands project to be shelved. Suncor, which already announced the delay of its Voyaguer bitumen upgrader, has now shelved plans to reconfigure its Commerce City, Colorado, refinery to heavy oil, Suncor vice-president of investor relations Steve Douglas said recently.
This indicates that the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline, in conjunction with the increase in shale oil production from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota and eastern Montana, is putting pressure on the tar sands industry. President Obama’s decision on whether or not to approve the KXL pipeline will be a deciding factor about whether he will make good on his promise to take meaningful action on climate change.
Another document buried deep within the Canadian government confirms that tar sands companies could be required to abandon or alter proposed projects if a review concludes there are risks of irreversible impact to Aboriginal lands. The discussion paper, released as part of an access to information request, indicates that the Canadian government’s constitutional responsibility to accommodate the rights of First Nations groups could include anything from “adjusting an activity or process to abandoning a project, to placing terms and conditions on any permits or authorizations.”
The document, prepared as stakeholders from the oil, gas and pipeline industries were actively promoting pipelines linking the tar sands industry in Alberta to the west coast of British Columbia, is welcome news for the Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation, which is embroiled in a constitutional challenge to halt the approval of Shell Canada’s Jackpine Mine expansion
Greenpeace Canada’s climate change and energy campaigner Keith Stewart, who obtained the document, said it indicates that the government could be forced to reject projects such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal or the Jackpine Mine expansion.
“This government can rewrite environmental laws but it can’t rewrite the Constitution,” Stewart told Post Media News.
CLEANING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
The success of campaigns against pipeline proposals in the Midwest and on the West Coast has forced Big Oil to look elsewhere to try and get its dirty oil to market. Calgary-based Enbridge Pipelines, for example, has proposed to reverse the flow of its Line 9 pipeline — a major artery for foreign crude headed west from Montreal, Quebec to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario — so it can pump dirty bitumen crude eastward from Alberta.
The proposal, however, has raised safety concerns among local people who live and work near the 40-year-old pipeline’s right-of-way. Environmentalists warn that if Enbridge begins pumping watered-down bitumen crude the decades-old pipeline could be pushed beyond its capacity and spill dil-bit in local rivers and streams, just as it did in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. That pipeline was of similar vintage as Line 9, and was not built to withstand the more corrosive crude produced in the tar sands.
Quebec’s Environment Minister Daniel Breton has said that the provincial government will block the proposal if it is deemed to pose undue environmental risks. “They cannot go over our heads because it’s on our territory and we have environmental reasons to make sure everything goes well,” Minister Breton said. “If it doesn’t go well, we can’t go ahead. If it goes well, we’ll go ahead. But we need to have all the information.”
In Ontario, local communities are preparing themselves for the worst. “They have a pretty bad reputation, and that’s pretty scary for the people who are along the route of this pipeline,” Paisley Cozzarin, a University of Waterloo student who founded Stop the Tar Sands KW, told The Waterloo Region Record.
The word is definitely getting out about the potential risks of the project. Outreach efforts by Environmental Defence have resulted in media all over Central Canada, including The Kingston Whig-Standard, The Frontenac News, The Toronto Star, The Hill Times, CHML’s Matt Holmes, TheFox 99.9 FM, and Rabble.ca.
On the other side of Canada, the first leader of any Canadian political party has taken a stand against the building of tar sands pipelines across British Columbia. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said that neither Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, nor Kinder Morgan's proposal to twin the TransMountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby should go ahead.
The reason? The federal government’s recent gutting of Canada’s environmental laws, including the federal government's environmental assessment system. Mulcair said the Conservative government's proposed exemption of most lakes and rivers from federal environmental scrutiny adds to earlier changes that weaken the process so much it is incapable of providing a thorough and credible review of the projects potential environmental impacts.
"To the extent that you can't even discuss these things in the absence of a thorough, credible, complete assessment process, you can't therefore even discuss an increase in flow and an increase in tanker traffic, because the condition is carrying out a thorough examination," Mulcair said. "And the Conservatives have gutted that. They've rendered it meaningless."
Meanwhile, the North Vancouver City Council had reservations of its own about the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal. During a recent Kinder Morgan presentation to the council, councilors asked spokesman Mike Davies some pretty skeptical questions.
Coun. Craig Keating was the most critical, noting that the environmental assessment process for the pipeline proposal will not take into account the energy-intensive process of extracting tar sands or the consequences of increased carbon in the atmosphere and resulting climate change. The pipeline issue needs to be put in the larger context of climate change, hurricanes and the federal government's policy of encouraging the extraction of oil sands and selling them abroad, Keating argued.
Couldn’t agree more. Let the movement grow!