XL is the proposed final stage of TransCanada’s Keystone system of pipelines carrying crude synthetic oil from Alberta tar sands to the USA.
Some stages to Illinois and Oklahoma destinations have already been completed. XL would run 1,980 miles (3,190 km) from Hardisty, Alberta, to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas—with easy access to Gulf of Mexico shipping. Some of the refined product would be consumed in the U.S. market while much would be exported to Europe and Latin America.
The route from the outskirts of the Arctic to the gateway to tropical waters invades a variety of ecosystems—vulnerable to inevitable spills. That is the issue that has belatedly brought together a broad array of opponents to XL making a last ditch stand.
But even more important to those concerned about climate change is the fact that these pipelines are crucial to expanded development in the tar sands—among the dirtiest greenhouse as well as ecological polluters in the world.
At the end of August and beginning of September, Park Police arrested 1252 protesters carrying out two weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience at the White House to try to stop XL. Most were cited for loitering and fined a hundred dollars. There were some prominent names among those taken away in handcuffs such as Daryl Hannah, Margot Kidder, and Naomi Klein. First Nation and American Indian leaders from both sides of the border were there, among the most resolute and articulate participants. Al Gore, while not at the action, sent a statement of support.
Perhaps the world’s most recognized climate scientist, NASA’s 70-year-old James Hansen, did take a turn riding in the paddy wagon. He had earlier written, “Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”
Essentially, he says losing the tar sands fight would mean “game over” in the effort to avoid calamitous climate change. On the line at the White House Hansen shouted just before his arrest, “If the tar sands pipeline is approved, we will be back and we will grow. For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must find somebody who is working for our dream.”
The Amalgamated Transit and Transport Workers unions issued a rare joint statement, “We need jobs, but not ones based on increasing our reliance on Tar Sands oil. There is no shortage of water and sewage pipelines that need to be fixed or replaced, bridges and tunnels that are in need of emergency repair, transportation infrastructure that needs to be renewed and developed. Many jobs could also be created in energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation—jobs that can help us reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency.”
Every indication points to White House approval of the XL project. The president’s action on ozone standards announced just before the Labor Day holiday break sends another clear message he is not the one “working for our dream.”
Ozone formation occurs when nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds react in sunlight. The major contributors to this smog are motor vehicle and lawn mower exhaust, industrial emissions, and chemical solvents. High concentrations cause or complicate a host of respiratory health problems—particularly threatening to the very young and very old.
It’s estimated that reducing ozone pollution by one-third could save 4000 lives in the USA each year—an annual figure roughly equivalent to the total number of GIs killed in combat so far in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
In 2008, the Bush EPA addressed this major public health problem by adopting the unanimous recommendation of an independent scientific panel to substantially reduce emissions producing ozone through much stricter new pollution standards. Bush reversed their ruling, substituting instead the present inadequate standards.
Earlier this year the Obama EPA again adopted the stricter rules. In the face of the usual boss howls of job-killer about every environmental or workplace safety standard ever proposed, the EPA was again ordered to retract them last week by President Obama, postponing any further action until after next year’s presidential election.
> The article above was written by Bill Onasch, and first appeared in the October 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.