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TransCanada’s New Permit Still Threatens Nebraska’s Water and U.S. Energy Security

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BOLD Nebraska

News broke today that TransCanada plans to re-apply for a Presidential Permit for the cross-border Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sometime tomorrow.  However, all indications show that the new application breaks its promise to Nebraska consumers and landowners by failing to avoid the Sandhills or Ogallala aquifer. TransCanada appears to be coming back to the president without any new rationale for approval. Most significantly:

  1. Despite promises to the contrary, the proposed pipeline route still goes through the sensitive Sandhills region and still threatens the Ogallala aquifer, the most important source of fresh water in the Midwest.
  2. The new application does nothing to ensure that the tar sands will be limited or their impact on climate mitigated. Tar sands are the dirtiest source of oil on earth, and the most important climate scientist in the U.S. has said it’s “game over” in the fight against climate change if tar sands are fully developed and burned as an energy source. The reckless expansion of the tar sands is encouraged by this project.
  3. The main goal of the Keystone XL pipeline is to reach Gulf Coast ports where much of the tar sands oil would be exported, undermining American energy security and leaving Americans with all the risks, all the costs and little benefit. Like the original application, this new permit is for a pipeline through—not to—the U.S.
  4. TransCanada and tar sands oil producers will profit from the new pipeline by up to $3.9 billion per year, money raised by increasing the price of oil in 16 Midwest states. Refineries accepting the high toxic tar sands crude will emit more air and water pollution, further increasing the pollution burden on some of the nation’s most environmentally impacted citizens.

Keystone XL Benefits Canadian Producers and Gulf Refiners, Not America

Instead of increasing the tar sands supply for the U.S., in the coming years Keystone XL will merely redirect supply to the Gulf so that it can be exported and sold for higher prices on the global market. The proposed route makes it clear that the pipeline contents are not intended for domestic distribution. Rather, the straight path from Canada to the Gulf facilitates Canada’s effort to position itself as a top supplier on the global market. A recent Inside Climate News piece examines the more than 10,000 miles of planned pipelines that would send an additional 3.1 million barrels a day of Alberta's oil to export markets.

Evidence abounds that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an export pipeline intended to go through—but not to—U.S. markets. When Senator Tester (D-MT) advocated for a requirement that oil from Keystone XL stay in the country, TransCanada’s executives refused to support that prerequisite and commit to not selling oil outside of the U.S. TransCanada’s deceptive practices deserve further scrutiny and as a BOLD Nebraska report makes clear, America cannot afford to entrust our economic future to a company with TransCanada’s record.

Moreover, the export nature of the Keystone XL pipeline will be detrimental to U.S. consumers who are likely to be subjected to higher prices at the pump. TransCanada itself acknowledged to the Canadian government that the pipeline would increase the cost of crude oil in the U.S.. TransCanada brags that the pipeline is “expected to realize an increase in the heavy crude price of approximately $3.00 per barrel by avoiding a discount” at the U.S. Gulf Coast. The market price of heavy crudes should rise an additional $3.55 per barrel when the new pipeline “relieves the oversupply situation in the Midwest.”

Finally, the U.S. has no actual need for a new tar sands pipeline. In fact, there are enough pipelines to handle all the tar sands crude that Canada could produce for the next 10 years or more. The debate surrounding Keystone XL has obscured the fact that Canada does not produce enough tar sands to fill existing pipelines, let alone new ones. The catch: none of those existing pipelines filter tar sands to the Gulf.

Pipeline Threatens Sandhills Region and Country’s Largest Freshwater Source

Despite assurances to the contrary, and Gov. Dave Heineman’s (R-NE) own concerns about water safety, the new corridor still endangers some of the Nebraska’s most sensitive environmental regions—including the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer.

While TransCanada’s proposed corridor avoids the Sandhills of southwest Holt County, it still crosses through northern Holt County. According to Inside Climate News and local landowners, the soil here “is often sandy and permeable and the water table is high—the same characteristics that make the Sandhills so vulnerable to the impact of an oil spill. In some parts of the new corridor, the groundwater lies so close to the surface that the pipeline would run through the aquifer instead of over it.” Even the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) originally labeled the entire northern part of the state “Sandhills” before being pressured by TransCanada to call that region simply “North-Central Nebraska."

Original DEQ Map:
Shows that entire northwest region is designated as Sandhills:


Aquifer Maps:
Shows route will go through Ogallala Aquifer where the water table is high.


Maps of the proposed corridor clearly show that though the route would avoid what DEQ now calls the Sandhills, it would still pass through the area originally designated as the Sandhills—a designation that is affirmed by soil tests and farmer anecdotes.

Even more obvious is that the new corridor still runs directly through the Ogallala aquifer. Despite Gov. Heineman’s August 2011 comments that, “I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer,” Gov. Heineman now backs the Keystone XL, though he has yet to provide an explanation for why his litmus test has changed so dramatically.

A University of Nebraska at Lincoln study found that the pipeline is expected to experience up to 91 significant spills over a 50-year period—a number further compounded by the fact that the route passes through the aquifer, which, as the country’s largest source of freshwater, provides 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S. and provides drinking water for 2 million people.

“Water has always been first and foremost in our mind,” said Tom Genung of Hastings, Neb., who owns ranchland in Holt County. “We were promised everything would be okay if [the pipeline] got out of the Sandhills ... but it's not.”

Meanwhile, TransCanada face another uphill battle as they continue to push for construction of the southern segment. In Texas and Oklahoma TransCanada is seeking a single “nationwide” permit from the Army Corps for the southern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. However, in fall 2011, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the southern segment is ineligible for a nationwide permit and must obtain individual Clean Water Act permits for approximately 60 of the pipeline’s crossings of U.S. waterways. EPA cites wetlands and stream loss of ½ acre at these crossings—an environmental impact that requires scientific review and public input.

Good for TransCanada, Bad for Americans

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be good for TransCanada shareholders and good for a few Gulf refineries—including a Saudi-owner refinery—but is not in the best interests of American consumers. The president stood up for America when he stood up to TransCanada earlier this year and denied the pipeline permit.

What was a policy debate has become a political game. Yet Americans’ health and livelihood should not be subject to partisan gamesmanship in an election year.  The massive risks that would be borne by America would reward Big Oil and the world market, not American consumers and workers. Due to existing capacity, we don’t even need another tar sands pipeline—let alone one that is so heavy on risk and so light on rewards.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.