Two days before Christmas, 2011, President Obama signed a bill that forces a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days as part of a two month payroll tax cut extension. The Keystone XL pipeline would transport oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
If approved by Congress, the land needed for the underground pipeline would be taken by eminent domain by the U.S. government and handed over to the TransCanada corporation. But even while Republicans celebrate this maneuver, itís widely recognized that two months is not enough time for a full review of the pipeline proposal.
Tar Sands - Extremely Polluting
In northern Alberta, Canada, along the Athabasca River, a formerly forested region is now scarred with open pit mining. Every major oil company mines in this region and the mines continue to expand.
Extracting oil (bitumen) from the tar sands is an energy-intensive and wasteful process. Each barrel of oil extracted from tar sands requires several barrels of water and the process also results in 22% greater greenhouse gas emissions than production of conventional oil. The tar sands extractions leave behind "tailing ponds" of highly toxic water, which has found its way into drinking water. These tailing ponds are so toxic that in some places automated water cannons were set up to try and scare animals away from even touching the tailing pond water.
Pressure from Below
Environmental activists, concerned with all aspects of the Keystone XL pipeline, have combined with concerned scientists and community groups to try and push the corporate controlled congress towards a minimum of environmental responsibility by demanding the cancellation of this pipeline. Demonstrations and civil disobedience, from Nebraska to Washington DC, petition campaigns and letters to politicians had some initial impact.
On November 6, thousands of people surrounded the White House with a fake oil pipeline. It followed a similar demonstration on October 7 - both were built on the backs of many actions throughout the country over the summer, including hundreds of arrests.
The Obama administration, bowing to public pressure, said in November 2011, that it would not make a decision on the pipeline until 2013 (http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/10/news/economy/keystone_pipeline/index.htm, CNNMoney.com, 11/10/2011).
However, in a short time, Obama and Co. went back on their word with the dirty deal of pushing the Tar Sands decision up to within 60 days in return for a two month extension of the payroll tax.
Another, fairly recent lesson from the Obama Administrationís record should help understand what it will take to stop this latest corporate attack on the environment. Remember, it took Obama only six months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to allow deep water drilling to resume in the Gulf of Mexico - in fact, four new drilling rigs in the Gulf were approved by March of 2011 (thehill.com, 3/22/11).
And it was only in July of this year that an oil pipeline in Montana ruptured spilling 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River. The exact cause of this break has not been determined but the estimated cleanup cost is, at minimum, $135 million. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/yellowstone-river-cleanup-costs_n_1077106.html, Huffington Post, 11/4/11).
Itís clear that mass demonstrations, large-scale direct action and other forms of stepped-up pressure will be needed to get the Obama administration to back off from poisoning the environment through development of infrastructure for more tar sands oil extraction.
Justifications for ramming through the pipeline proposal include Republican and TransCanada corporate propaganda claims that up to 20,000 jobs will result from the Keystone XL Pipeline even though U.S. government estimates of jobs from the project are far lower, around 6,000 jobs. (Washington Post, 11/5/11).
The movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline should counter any propaganda about the proposed pipeline creating new jobs by demanding instead a massive green jobs program combined with union-organized pay and benefits. Such a program would employ hundreds of thousands or more while helping to protect the environment.
Jobs could be created by building a green energy grid and a massive public transportation network. Wind, solar, tidal and geo-thermal power should be heavily invested in and developed to create green jobs and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. This would create construction jobs and also new jobs in running new energy and transportation networks.
The fight against both tar sands oil extraction and the Keystone XL pipeline will continue. The movement against the Keystone XL pipeline and other environmental protection movements need mass working class support. We must strongly oppose the false, deadly dichotomy of "jobs vs. the environment." We urgently need and can have decent jobs that keep our communities and environment clean.