Last Night’s Anti-Keystone XL Rally at White House

As we celebrate the final defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ll repost some of the spiritual power that led to this day.

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[Originally published Feb. 4, 2014]

Rose speaking with media at anti-Keystone XL rally in front of White House on February 3, 2014. (Linda Swanson)
Rose speaking with media at anti-Keystone XL rally in front of White House on February 3, 2014. (Linda Swanson)

“As Christians we are required to place the poor at the center of our social and political life. The awful reality we face is that climate change kills and displaces poor Americans and the poor around the world FIRST.

What the recent State Department report has made more clear is that tar sands oil to be carried in the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada is a huge carbon polluter. The State Department did better incorporate climate impacts into this version, but they don’t acknowledge that the amount is significant, or that it takes our country down the wrong energy path.

Sojourners particularly works with evangelical Christians, who know that, as Psalm 24 says, The earth is the Lord’s, and we are to be careful stewards of God’s earth and the ‘least of these’ who would be harmed by this pipeline’s pollution.”–Rose Marie Berger

Rose Berger: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

As we celebrate the final defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ll repost some of the spiritual power that led to this day.
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[Originally published Oct. 9. 2013]

Keystone protest @ Environmental Resources Management headquarters, D.C.
Photo by Jay Mullin. Used with permission.

I had fun this summer with a great group of folks who came to be known as the ERM 54 (explanation below). After getting arrested, three court appearances, peeing in a cup, negotiating the D.C. community court system, and promising not to get arrested again before Valentine’s Day, I’m ready for the autumn to begin. But that’s not to say that the summer wasn’t fun!

Here’s an excerpt from my most recent column in Sojourners:

OFFICER MARIO normally worked for Homeland Security. On this Friday night he’d been seconded to the Washington, D.C. Metro police, who had their hands full. Not only did they have the usual “drunk and disorderlies,” but now 54 people who looked like card-carrying members of the AARP were filling up their holding cells. Officer Mario, of retirement age himself, was feeling fortunate. He’d been assigned to the women’s side.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies!” Mario said, sauntering in with a mischievous smile. “This must be my lucky night.”

The evening before, we’d all been at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church running role plays on how to “flash mob” the corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the firm hired by the U.S. State Department to provide an environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. To the disbelief and concern of climate scientists, ERM claimed that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change. ERM was suspected of “misleading disclosures” regarding conflict of interest and material gain from the pipeline’s completion.

Our white-haired mob of mostly grandparents converged on ERM headquarters at noon to shine a light on such shady dealings. While six silver foxes blocked the elevators by chaining their arms together inside a PVC pipe, I watched two D.C. police lift Steve, age 70, and toss him into the crowd behind me. I knew this nonviolent civil disobedience wasn’t going as planned.

For the next hour the police threatened us with felony charges, and we chanted complicated ditties on Big Oil, Mother Earth, and the merits of transparency in a democracy. Then they slipped plastic cuffs over our wrists and charged us with “unlawful entry.” …

Read the whole essay here (Sojourners, November 2013, “Unlawful Entry”).

The Bill Show: Moyers & McKibben on the Politics of Keystone

Photo by Jay Mallin. Used with permission.
Photo by Jay Mallin. Used with permission.

My next Keystone resistance court date is on Valentine’s Day!

The “ERM 54,” as we are called, were arrested last July (photo at left) in the lobby of corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management, the company hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition to providing a very flawed report, the company failed to include key conflict of interest information in its State Department application.

Below is Bill Moyers interviewing Bill McKibben on the most recent State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a good summary of where the Keystone fight, called “the Woolworth’s lunch counter of the climate change movement,” is now and is headed.

From Moyers and Company:

After the State Department issued a long-awaited environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline last week, environmentalists and those opposed to the 1,179-mile pipeline have intensified their push for the Obama administration to reject the project.

This week, Bill Moyers talks with Bill McKibben, an activist who has dedicated his life to saving the planet from environmental collapse, about his hopes that Americans will collectively pressure Obama to stand up to big oil.

“Most people understand that we’re in a serious fix,” McKibben tells Moyers, “There’s nothing you can do as individuals that will really slow down this juggernaut … You can say the same thing about the challenges faced by people in the civil rights or the abolition movement, or the gay rights movement or the women’s movement. In each case, a movement arose; if we can build a movement, then we have a chance.”

Watch the interview.

Bill McKibben to Obama: Say No to Big Oil from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

State Dept’s Latest Wrong-Headed Analysis of Keystone XL Pipeline

Today, the State Department issued its next draft  of the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) assessing the northern route of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Officially, the State Department does not make any recommendations on whether the pipeline should be approved or denied. But the summation language is all to the positive — making it clear that the State Department still doesn’t understand global warming and its disastrous consequences.

I’m sure the scientists, p0licy analysts, and environmentalists among us will soon sort out and explain the hundreds of pages released by the State Department today. But until then, here’s the part I found most significant: “The life-cycle carbon footprint, for transportation fuels produced in U.S. refineries, would increase if the project were approved.”

(From Appendix W, Life Cycle GHG Emissions Compared, March 2013, p 65-66)

Please note that this information is buried way way way deep in the documents. The general summary by the State Department is favorable toward industry and the pipeline, though there are some conclusions drawn that I think are not supportable.

For example, the State Department assessment is that if the Keystone XL is not approved, there is very little chance that this will stop or significantly slow TransCanada’s mining project. The State Department is basing this assessment on information from the industry, particularly the American Petroleum Institute.

However, it is not taking into account the civil resistance along the pipeline routes in both the US and Canada that is effectively blocking or slowing construction. It also doesn’t reflect what two of Canada’s largest banks, TD Economics and CIBC, have recently said that without added capacity, “Canada’s oil industry is facing a serious challenge to its long-term growth” and that “Canada needs pipe — and lots of it — to avoid the opportunity cost of stranding over a million barrels a day of potential crude oil growth.”

There is also a climate change section included in this assessment that would be laughable if it weren’t so painful.  Section 4.14, Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project, profiles the effect of climate change on TransCanada’s bottom dollar. For example, the report looks at how increased heavy rain and flooding in areas along the pipeline route may increase TransCanada’s maintenance costs due to erosion, pipe damage, etc.

Additionally, the third-party assessor hired by TransCanada to provide an environmental and cultural impact report on the pipeline route relies on an acoustical engineer for greenhouse gas analysis.

In a Jan. 15 letter to President Obama, 18 top U.S. climate scientists urged him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline:

Eighteen months ago some of us wrote you about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, explaining why in our opinion its construction ran counter to both national and planetary interests. Nothing that has happened since has changed that evaluation; indeed, the year of review that you asked for on the project made it clear exactly how pressing the climate issue really is.

We hope, as scientists, that you will demonstrate the seriousness of your climate convictions by refusing to permit Keystone XL; to do otherwise would be to undermine your legacy.

The Obama Administrations has promised action on climate change but if  it is approved, the administration would be actively supporting and encouraging the growth of an industry that has demonstrably serious effects on climate. Once this draft SEIS has been published by the EPA, the public will have 45 days to comment on the document. (Direct comments to: keystonecomments at state.gov.)

Video: ‘Developing Tar Sands Means Losing Control of the Climate’

“If we fully develop the tar sands, we will certainly lose control of the climate. We will get to a point where we can not walk back from the cliff,” says climate scientist Dr. John Abraham. The Keystone XL pipeline is the lynch pin to developing the tar sands in Alberta.

As many of you know, I’ve been paying attention to the Keystone pipeline development since 2011 when it was under review by the State Department. I joined a group of religious leaders to deliver thousands of petitions to Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, asking her to to stop the pipeline. I said to her, “If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.” She didn’t disagree. The exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate.

Now, new scientific data shows that developing the tar sands (and the pipeline to carry it) is worse than previously known. The video above shows climate scientists countering the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute, details how the Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL. That’s not true. All other routes are similarly being blocked.

Lorne Stockman, Research Director for Oil Change International, announced new research that shows that the emissions from tar sands oil are worse than originally believed. This is because the climate emissions from a byproduct of tar sands, petroleum coke which is made in the refinery process and is used in coal-fired power plants, have not been previously considered. “If Keystone is approved,” says Dr. Danny Harvey, professor at the University of Toronto, “we’re locking in several more decades of fossil fuels and higher levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.”

“Climate change is the story related to Keystone. The drought and heat wave in Texas cost Texans $5.2 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost us $70 billion,” says Dr. John Abraham, climate scientist at the University of St. Thomas. “Some people say it’s too expensive to develop clean energy. I say it’s too expensive not to.”

After the largest climate protests in U.S. history were held in Washington, D.C., in 2011, the fight against the Keystone XL went back to the regions along the pipeline route.

Hundreds have been arrested in their attempts to block the bulldozers. There are farmers engaged in numerous local law suits against TransCanada’s pressure on local governments to use “imminent domain” to force them to give up their property to the corporation. There are First Nations and American Indian communities in treaty battles to keep TransCanada’s massive machinery off their lands.

There are Buddhist nuns walking the pipeline route in prayers for the earth and her people. A 92-year-old Lakota grandmother stood in front and blocked the giant rigs hauling pipe. Twenty-somethings are launching “tree sits” in the construction path. A Baptist church in Nacogdoches, Texas, near the pipeline route, has launched a new young adult and youth ministry specifically for and with Keystone XL activists.

On Feb. 17, the movement will come back to Washington, D.C.

You come too. We need you. Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their country. And for all good Christians to come to the aid of our world’s most vulnerable.

Keystone XL Pipeline permit denied!

Yea! This is huge. This is “earth-sized” big!

Here’s the word from the horse’s mouth (aka The State Department):

Today, the Department of State recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest. The President concurred with the Department’s recommendation, which was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.

Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough, and rigorous review of TransCanada’s permit application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, on November 10, 2011, the Department announced that it could not make a national interest determination regarding the permit application without additional information. Specifically, the Department called for an assessment of alternative pipeline routes that avoided the uniquely sensitive terrain of the Sand Hills in Nebraska. The Department estimated, based on prior projects of similar length and scope, that it could complete the necessary review to make a decision by the first quarter of 2013. In consultations with the State of Nebraska and TransCanada, they agreed with the estimated timeline.

On December 23, 2011, the Congress passed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (“the Act”). The Act provides 60 days for the President to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest – which is insufficient for such a determination. The Department’s denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.–State Department Memo Issued 18 January 2012