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Michael Brune: The End Game Begins

Energy

Surprising nobody, President Obama has quietly followed through on his promise to veto the bill from Congress that would have authorized construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. It's only the third veto of his presidency, and it means the way is now clear for the president to make a final decision about whether Keystone XL, and the toxic tar-sands oil it would pump across America's heartland, are in the national interest.

Why did Congress force the president to waste perfectly good ink reasserting his authority to make this decision? Certainly not because they were looking out for the best interests of the American people, who would be accepting all of the many risks associated with Keystone without seeing any appreciable benefits. The more people learn about the project, the more they think it's a bad idea. A poll just released by the League of Conservation Voters found that after hearing arguments both for and against the pipeline, a majority of voters believe President Obama should reject it.

What's more, nearly two-in-three voters (63 percent) say that if President Obama decides the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the nation's best interests, then Congress should accept the decision and move on to other issues facing the country, rather than trying to force the administration to issue a permit.

Seems like good advice. Yet tar-sands supporters in Congress will find it hard to tune out the fossil fuel interests that want to see Canada's oil sands mined to the utmost. After all, the biggest foreign lease holder in Canada's oil sands is none other than the Koch brothers. And they didn't become among the wealthiest people on the planet by taking "no" for an answer graciously.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, it's up to President Obama to do the right thing—for America, for Americans and for our planet.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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