Keystone XL Delayed: A Young Person’s Reaction

…in which the author reflects on the first national environmental victory of his generation.

Obama delayed the Keystone XL pipeline after thousands protested

When I became aware of the Keystone XL campaign, I really had no idea where it would lead. On the one hand, I thought, this pipeline is just the type of thing Candidate Obama would have decried; if there were ever a president who would stop the project, it would be he. On the other hand, President Obama has barely talked about clean energy in recent months, not even mentioning climate change in his State of the Union address. Quite the opposite, his Interior Department announced a massive coal mining expansion earlier this year.

Considering the confidence within the industry–TransCanada had already spent millions on pipe, signed contracts with suppliers, and begun seizing land–victory seemed unlikely. Yet this didn’t change the anti-KXL movement, beyond charging it with urgency. The struggle, to me at least, was not something you take part in because you expect to win. It was more, “Years from now, how do I explain why I didn’t speak out against this?”

The answer is that you don’t. You speak, you write, you rally; and you do it with enough savvy to give yourself a decent chance. Then, if you lose, you can say that you fought the good fight.

That’s how I went into this: with the hope that all activism requires but also with the understanding that, too most onlookers, the Keystone XL was a done deal. So imagine my surprise when, in the midst of research for yet another anti-KXL article, I check my email and see that the pipeline has been delayed until 2013, and that this delay could prove fatal.

For me and many other young people, this success was especially meaningful. It was one of the first, if not the first national environmental victory of our lifetime. We had watched the wheels of dirty politics turn–and we’d seen them grind to a halt. To be part of something like that is nothing short of inspirational. I’ve realized that Tim DeChristopher was right when he said we “have more than enough power” to win these battles.

I’ve also realized that, where individual concern falls short, collective action is powerful. Changing your lightbulbs won’t stop an oil pipeline. For that matter, selling your car, swearing off airplanes, and moving into an off-the-grid earthship won’t either. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t address the root causes of our problems on a big enough scale. Change is created by passionate, focused, collective movements. And that is what we now have.

We should come away from the Keystone XL victory encouraged, but we don’t have much time to congratulate ourselves. More challenges are already on the horizon. The gas industry is pushing for 20,000 fracking wells in the Delaware River watershed, a water source for millions. A vote will take place on November 21–and the White House could play a decisive role. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for 2012 is almost sure to come out swinging against clean air, water, and energy.

But now we’re prepared. We’re organized and energized. As a movement, we know we can make a difference.


Image: Josh Lopez/Tar Sands Action


HUGE: Keystone XL Delayed

In an important (and honestly surprising) victory for the grassroots, President Obama has delayed a decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

From Tar Sands Action:

…the president sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess….

And he has made clear that the environmental assessment won’t be carried out by cronies of the pipeline company–that it will be an expert and independent assessment.

Note that Obama didn’t reject the pipeline outright, as activists have been demanding. Instead, he effectively put off the decision until after the elections, thus avoiding a political conundrum. While we didn’t get a strong statement against the Keystone XL, we did get a vindication of the anti-KXL movement.

Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end. As late as last week the CBC reported that TransCanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted.

And here is a statement from the White House, via the HuffPost:

“Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” Obama said. “The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”

This all seems obvious to those of us who were aware of–and even helped expose–the depth of corruption in the review process. But make no mistake: Without the groundswell of opposition, Obama and the State Department would have quietly signed off on the project.

Now, the pipeline is delayed, perhaps permanently. Even if it resurfaces in 2013, we will have fresh verbal ammunition in the form of a (supposedly) independent impact study, as well as ample time to strengthen and reorganize our movement.

The Keystone XL victory–go ahead and call it that–is proof of the power that a collective political effort has. We can make a dramatic difference when we channel our convictions into sustained, nonviolent action.

And we’ll need plenty more of that in the days ahead. We can expect oil apologists and their allies in Washington to continue distorting the facts about Keystone XL jobs and energy independence. The difference: Now we have to confidence to stand up and keep moving forward.

Keystone XL Jobs Figures are Rife With Misleading Math and Conflicts of Interest

Activists protest Keystone XL pipeline at White House

Industry and government estimates of Keystone XL jobs are unreliable, according to independent study.

Have you heard that the Keystone XL pipeline would create 20,000 jobs? If so, you might have read it in a news article and assumed that it came from trustworthy, independent research. But the truth is a bit more complicated.

I’ve already mentioned that TransCanada’s job figures are inflated–but now we have even more evidence. The media has cooperatively echoed TransCanada’s estimates: 13,000 direct construction jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs. But the TransCanada chief executive himself, Russ Girling, admitted to the Washington Post that the first number was misleading:

Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was “one person, one year,” meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company’s number closer to the State Department’s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.

Cardno Entrix also handled the Keystone XL environmental review. Why is this important? Because Cardno Entrix lists TransCanada as a “major client.” It turns out that TransCanada handpicked the firm for the State Department. Then, by pure coincidence, the “State” research sounded just like an advertisement for the pipeline: thousands of Keystone XL jobs and “limited adverse environmental impacts.” (See the NYT story for details.)

Made in Canada

Now what about the 7,000 manufacturing jobs? To answer, that, we’ll return to the WashPo article:

As for the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs, the $1.9 billion already spent by TransCanada would reduce the number of jobs that would be created in the future. The Brixton Group, a firm working with opponents of the project, has argued that many of the indirect supply jobs would be outside the United States because about $1.7 billion worth of steel will be purchased from a Russian-owned mill in Canada.

TransCanada, of course, insists that most of the pipeline would be made in Arkansas. On the other hand, DeSmogBlog notes,

TransCanada has already signed contracts for nearly 50 percent of the steel pipe for the project. A Russian company, Evraz, will manufacture roughly 40 percent in Canadian mills, and an Indian company, Welspun, is likely to produce the rest.

An independent analysis

You might be wondering if there are any Keystone XL jobs reports not funded by TransCanada. As a matter of fact, Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute has just what you’re looking for. Here are some key points from the study:

  • The construction of KXL will create far fewer jobs in the US than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates. 
  • The industry’s US job claims, and even the State Department’s analysis, are linked to a $7 billion KXL project budget. However, the budget for KXL that will have a bearing on US jobs figures is dramatically lower—only around $3 to $4 billion.
  • The claim that KXL will create 7,000 manufacturing jobs in the US is unsubstantiated. There is strong evidence to suggest that a large portion of the primary material input for KXL—steel pipe—will not even be produced in the US
  • The industry’s job projections fail to consider the large number of jobs that could be lost by construction of KXL. This includes jobs lost due to consumers in the Midwest paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs ($2 to $4 billion) will suppress other spending and cost jobs.
If you also consider that the Keystone XL would do almost nothing to decrease oil imports from the Middle East (see here and here), you can build a solid case for rejecting the project without even mentioning environmental impacts. Add tar sands, a dash of spilled oil in a water supply, and an extra large helping of climate change, and you’ve got one nasty concoction.
That’s why, on Sunday, thousands of activists encircled the White House to make the point: Keystone XL is not in the national interest.
Mr. Obama, are you listening?

Infographic: Keystone XL ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent… So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation.

That’s Emma Pullman on DeSmogBlog, taking on TransCanada and its proposed Keystone XL pipeline. We’ve already covered the myths and facts about Keystone XL, but this infrographic, produced by Heather Libby of TckTckTck and DeSmogBlogs’s Pullman summarizes the situation visually.

The pipeline is just a signature short of approval–Obama has only to declare the project in the “national interest,” and he has less than ninety days to do so. In the last few weeks, opposition to Keystone XL has been heating up, with over 1,200 protestors arrested in Washington. And hundreds have already signed up for a follow-up event in October. The message is clear: oil spills in aquifers and accelerated climate change are not in the national interest.

Tim DeChristopher to Appeal Sentence

Just as I was publishing my article on Tim DeChristopher’s trial and sentencing, this news came across my radar. The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Convicted oil and gas lease auction saboteur Tim DeChristopher will appeal his conviction and two-year prison sentence, in part because he was prevented from arguing the environmental necessity of his actions at trial.

I mentioned this issue in my earlier post:

The prosecution claimed that DeChristopher had “obstructed lawful government proceedings,” but the defense was forbidden to point out that the auction was not a lawful proceeding. DeChristopher was not allowed to mention that he had offered an initial payment to the BLM. Nor was he allowed to explain the moral motivations behind his action, including climate change.

In short, the government prevented DeChristopher from saying anything that would have made his actions appear justified. And the only truly neutral party, the jury, never heard the whole story.

According to a law professor quoted by the Tribune, it will be difficult for the defense to overturn the judge’s decision to rule out the so-called “necessity defense,” because DeChristopher would have to prove that he prevented significant harm.

Returning to the Tribune article,

That effort is made even more difficult, he said, because other legal means such as a lawsuit and a presidential election apparently prevented whatever harm one might argue the auction threatened.


Whether or not the appeal is successful, it can only be good for Tim’s publicity. The farther the case goes, the more attention it will get, and one of DeChristopher’s goals from the start was to draw attention to an underhanded energy policy.