On Monday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the State Department that the information in the State Department's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline is "insufficient." Among EPA's many concerns was the State Department's failure to adequately address the pipeline's impacts on climate change. EPA raised a host of other issues. In fact, the State Department's EIS is not useful for answering some of the most basic questions about Keystone XL.
Ever since Feb. 13, when I chained myself to the White House fence with 47 other protestors urging President Obama to kill the Keystone pipeline, people have asked me why I felt strongly enough about the issue to endure arrest. Many of them have the same questions that should have been asked in the State Department's EIS. If we don't build the pipeline through the American prairie, won't the oil companies just route it through British Columbia by rail, tank trucks or pipelines and sell their oil to Asia? Won't the Keystone XL pipeline give America energy security and the U.S. jobs? Won't the pipeline lower the price of gasoline at the pump? Haven't the oil industry and government regulators given us adequate assurances that Keystone is safe? Don't the oil and pipeline companies have their own incentives to make sure the Keystone pipeline doesn't leak?
Here are the answers:
1) Is the Keystone XL Pipeline safe? Anyone who watched the oil industry and its regulators scramble to point fingers and dodge responsibility during the BP oil spill should be skeptical about industry claims of pipeline safety. Tar sands oil, sometimes known as bitumen, is extraordinarily corrosive and the industry has not figured out how to stop it from bursting even the most fortified pipelines. On March 31, an Exxon pipe carrying 95,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands oil from Illinois to Texas refineries burst and flooded an upscale suburb in Mayflower, Arkansas beneath an ocean of toxic heavy bitumen and lighter dilutents, added by oil companies to help the gelatinous bitumen move through the pipe. Arkansas taxpayers were shocked to learn that thanks to a loophole artfully created by the industry's political allies, they—not the oil companies—will have to pay for the cleanup.
That same week a burst Minnesota pipeline vomited 15,000 gallons of Alberta crude. In 2010, an Exxon pipeline in Michigan spewed a million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, causing the worst and most expensive pipeline-based oil spill in U.S. history. Experts are still scratching their heads trying to figure out how to clean up the Kalamazoo spill which received little coverage from the mainstream corporate media. Clean-up crews commonly collect aquatic oil spills using floatable booms. As it turns out, tar sands oil doesn't float. Instead, it tarred and coated the Kalamazoo River bottom, which is the foundation of the aquatic ecosystem. In fact, oil and gas companies even shipping conventional oil, experience thousands of oil spills each year. In June, an Exxon pipe that runs parallel to the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline burst, spilling between 750 and 1,000 barrels, at a crossing on the iconic Yellowstone River and killed life in that blue ribbon trout fishery and national treasure for 25 miles.
Given the industry's abysmal record, it's safe to say that Keystone XL will experience a major spill and, due to its planned route, that spill will almost certainly contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, the sole water supply for millions of middle state Americans as well as the breadbasket of American agriculture and the ranching industries in seven states.
2) Keystone XL will not create significant American jobs. According to the State Department's study, Keystone will provide only 35 full time jobs following the construction period. We could more beneficially create permanent jobs by incentivizing solar and wind development which, even with the current anemic federal incentives, are creating each year, more new generation capacity than all the incumbents (oil, gas, coal and nuke) combined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are already 93,000 jobs in solar and 85,000 in wind, and those numbers are growing exponentially.
3) Keystone XL will neither improve energy security nor lower gasoline prices. Virtually all of Keystone's Alberta tar sands oil is destined for Asian markets. Canadian and mostly non-U.S. owned oil services companies, the Koch Brothers, and Asian plutocrats will profit from the pipeline but there will be little value to the U.S. in terms of security or lower oil prices. In fact, U.S. oil prices will actually increase as the result of Keystone because U.S. oil prices are dictated not by world market prices but by refinery capacity in this country. Since tar sands oil destined for Asian markets will first be refined in U.S. refineries, tar sands will compete for limited refinery space and therefore drive up the price of oil. The State Department estimates that the average cost of American gasoline will actually rise upward of 7¢ per gallon if Keystone is constructed. The Pipeline will hurt the U.S. economy, not help it.
4) Why are environmentalists mad at Obama? Why have they made this the political line in the sand for his carbon legacy? Because this issue is one of the few issues that is solely under Obama's control. President Obama doesn't need to go to a Congress awash in democracy polluting oil money. He can pull the plug on Keystone XL while sitting alone in Oval Office. If we cannot win this issue with Obama, what hope do we have with other environment issues where he has to work with Senate Republicans?
5) If we don't build Keystone, the oil companies will just haul their tar sands out by rail and truck, generating more carbon and more spills. The $7 billion Keystone pipeline will transport 1.1 million barrels each day—far more than could be transported economically by rail and truck traffic. If we stop Keystone, we lock most of this carbon permanently underground.
6) If we kill Keystone, the oil companies will not build a pipeline elsewhere in Canada. The oil industry will not build an alternative pipeline elsewhere in Canada. Resistance among Canadians in British Columbia, especially salmon-dependent First Nations, is even greater than here in the United States.
7) We don't need oil-based fossil fuels while we ramp up renewables like Solar and Wind. Renewables are proven and market ready technologies. Their widespread deployment is only being impeded by multibillion dollar annual subsidies to oil and gas. In any case, the Keystone XL Pipeline is not a stop gap measure. Instead the pipeline will entrench our use of fossil fuels.
8) Keystone XL will have a catastrophic impact on climate change. The amount of carbon in the tar sands is equivalent to all the carbon in all the oil ever removed from Saudi Arabia. Burning the vast oceans of oil beneath Saudi Arabia has gotten us where we are today; ice caps melting, glaciers retreating on every continent, water supplies drying up, continent wide droughts disrupting agriculture and global food supplies, acidified oceans and rising sea levels, and climate chaos flooding our greatest cities. According to a new study published last week by Oil Change International, “Cooking the Books: How the State Department Analysis Ignores the True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline," the pipeline will emit 181 methane tons of carbon every year—the equivalent of 37.7 million cars or 51 new coal plants. There are 561 tons of carbon locked in Alberta's tar sands. More than twice the amount, according to former Goddard scientist James Hansen, then have been released by all the oil and combustion in the history of mankind. We can double that sum by burning Alberta's tar sands, but what genocidal politician or oilman, would want to do that to future generations? We could better solve our energy problems by scuttling the pipeline, investing in renewables, and putting the greedy megalomaniacs from Koch oil and Exxon's puppets in the U.S. Capitol in jail, where they belong.
Visit EcoWatch's KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.