The energy wars: environmentalists stop the Keystone XL pipeline — for now

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Heated battles around the Keystone XL pipeline have become both a vivid exposé of corporate and political deception, and a beacon of resistance to all who would preserve our planet.

On the one side are TransCanada Corp. and its numerous oil, gas and water affiliates in North America, joined by their allied politicians in Congress, both Republican and Democrat. They promise more jobs and more non-foreign oil. On the other side are opponents of the pipeline who have sounded the alarm that mining tar sands oil, transporting it, and burning it is dangerous business.

Keystone destruction. The Keystone XL pipeline is a $7 billion scheme to bring tar sands oil, one of the world’s dirtiest fuels, from Canada to Texas refineries. Tar sands crude oil is particularly dangerous to transport because it’s very corrosive and piped at high pressure. In Canada, where tar sands oil is mined, 50 square miles of toxic waste ponds have developed since its production in 2008.

The U.S. extension, known as Keystone XL pipeline, would run through the Ogallala Aquifer, a fresh-water, underground water table covering 174,000 miles in portions of eight states. This is the agriculture heartland of the U.S. A spill of tar sands oil would potentially destroy the drinking water of two million Midwesterners.

One of the biggest lies being spread is that Pipeline XL will create 20,000 jobs. In fact, a Cornell Global Labor Institute study estimates only 2,500 to 4,650 union jobs. And that’s doubtful. Just 11 percent of the construction jobs for Keystone I Pipeline were filled by South Dakotans. Most were for temporary, low paid manual labor.

Fightback fires up. The August 2011 sit-in at the White House, during which a thousand environmental activists were arrested and jailed, was the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years. Then in November, 10,000 encircled the White House, five people deep. The movement finally tasted victory on Jan. 18, 2012, when Obama postponed the construction permit. Hopes were even raised that the Democrats would do something for our environment. But six weeks later Obama, on the campaign trail, announced his approval of a southern piece of the pipeline, from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans had lodged a bill amendment that permitted the whole Pipeline XL project to go ahead. In one day, 800,000 messages to the Senate exclaimed, “Hell no!” When the vote took place on March 8, the protesters could once again celebrate a victory.

Environmental author and journalist Bill McKidden called attention to the date of this recent win on March 8, International Women’s Day. “Appropriate,” he wrote, “because many of the very strongest fighters against this project right from the beginning were women of unusual distinction.” He noted in particular Lakota warrior Debra White Plume. She was arrested the day before, along with other tribal members, for blocking massive trucks headed through Indian land. She’s “an eloquent fighter, part of the large crew of indigenous leaders who were the first to sound the alarm about the tar sands and have been at the center of the battle ever since.”

Who backs lethal energy? The struggle against Keystone is but one front of the larger environmental fight against the destructive forces of Big Oil. Lobbyists for major energy corporations and their Democrat and Republican politician buddies try to talk a good “green” line, because the U.S. public has become savvy and angry about environmental decline. Energy moguls tout false alternatives such as coal, fracking, and nuclear power. All of this is done under the nationalistic guise of reducing dependence on “foreign oil” and restoring American greatness.

Take coal, for example. In an attempt to skirt the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Department of Energy, in cahoots with the coal industry, advances the idea of “clean” coal, or storing carbon dioxide and other gases emitted from burning coal underground. But these by-products of coal are notoriously harmful to the environment, and isolating carbon dioxide could contaminate drinking water and leach gases above ground. Environmental scientists warn that clean coal is a myth, citing the natural resource damage that coal extraction causes, and the ineffective technology for storing carbon dioxide.

Fracking is another scary process being posed as a solution. A haphazard technique of using high-pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals to extract natural gas and petroleum, fracking began in Dimock, Penn. in 2010. The town was left with 13 methane-contaminated water wells, one of which exploded. Cabot Oil & Gas shamelessly denies the poisoned water was due to fracking.

On Jan. 18, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency called for urgent action to safeguard public health in Dimock. The agency at last acknowledged what residents already knew — their contaminated water resulted from induced hydraulic fracturing. Despite this, Obama championed fracking in his State of the Union Address.

And then there’s nuclear energy. Although the Obama Administration banned the reprocessing of nuclear waste, the federal government is a longtime pursuer of nuclear power. Fully 19 percent of U.S. electricity already derives from nuclear energy. With one breath, our government and energy businesses present this as a “renewable” resource. With their next breath, they cover up evidence of health risks from radioactive waste. Compounding its pollution of soil and ground water in the United States, U.S. production of nuclear energy enhances global nuclear proliferation.

Green capitalism is a lie. Obama’s January postponement of Keystone XL was an early round of the battle, part of the Democrat Party’s attempt to co-opt the green movement. Despite mock battles between congressional Republicans and Democrats, both preach that all this lethal energy is “green” and that capitalism is ecologically friendly.

But capitalism is not now, and never will be, friendly because the profit system trumps human need. Green capitalism is as big a myth as clean coal and safe nukes.

As it exposes the big lies, the environmental movement is expanding in every way. Its bold militancy and increasing grass-roots organizing is a beacon to activists everywhere. The energy war is one the global the 99 percent are determined to win!

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