Details: The Mall, Washington, D.C., Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013; noon to 4 pm . For more information, go here.
Remember the Keystone XL Pipeline, purveyor of tar sands, the planet’s most toxic fossil fuel yet? Bulletin: the Keystone XL Pipeline project has not only not gone away, it’s morphing into new, more dangerous forms. Its latest incarnation is the Enbridge Trailbreaker pipeline route, which would transport the tar sands east from Ontario down through our upper Midwest, across the Great Lakes and through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine before terminating in Portland for shipment south to Texas refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico.
The pipeline came into public consciousness late in the summer of 2011 when over the course of two weeks 1,253 people were arrested for congregating in groups in front of the White House. Each of us was protesting the fast tracking of a proposed pipeline that would run from Alberta, Canada along a 1,700-mile stretch through America’s breadbasket and the vital Ogallala aquifer that hydrates it. Because the pipeline would cross the Canadian border, the State Department had to issue an EIS (environmental impact statement) to assess the risk to our homeland. The initial statement indicated that the environmental impacts would be negligible.
In January of 2012, President Obama rejected the 1,700-mile pipeline route (TransCanada immediately submitted an alternate route) but voiced no objections to the domestic version of an existing pipeline route still to be completed between Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. Because it wouldn’t cross an international border, this route wouldn’t require that pesky EIS. But the dangers to the sand hills of Nebraska, the Ogallala aquifer and other natural water sources along the route have never been the only concern. The pipeline’s payload is a filthy form of oil called tar sands, a type of bitumen that is highly corrosive, requires vast amounts of fresh water to process it and contains a much heavier CO2 content when it burns. For Canadians and ultimately all of us who live and breathe south of their border, there is also a devastating loss tied to the ongoing destruction of the vast tree canopy—Alberta’s arboreal forest—that is being uprooted to allow for the mining of the sticky tar sands that lie beneath the forest floor.
While work began pushing south from Cushing to the Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur and Houston (meeting many pockets of dedicated protesters along the way), TransCanada continues to find ways to move the payload west through the First Nations land that keeps Alberta landlocked on the Pacific ocean side. The eastbound Enbridge Trailbreaker pipeline route gives them yet another target to put into play.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama famously said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
There’s an old story that when labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph met with Franklin Roosevelt to get him to take action against widespread discrimination, FDR listened, then famously retorted, “You’ve convinced me. Now go out there and make me do it.”
Our leaders aren’t monarchs. They can’t govern by decree.
They have to respond to the public outcry and that outcry is the responsibility that each of us carries as a citizen.
The President needs help to begin to address the effects of climate change and to change our national energy policy from one that’s fossil fuel-based to one that uses the endless supply of clean energy that’s waiting for the genius of American ingenuity to finally allow us to cut our national addiction to oil, coal and natural gas.
Make your voice heard. Put some skin in the game. Get yourself to Washington D.C. on February 17th to help make the point loud and clear. If there is to be a history for future generations, let each of us use our voices and bodies to help write it. The time is now.
Ellen Gunter is a journalist, environmental advocate, author of REUNION: How We Heal Our Broken Connection to the Earth and most recently a Tar Sands Action arrestee.
Facebook and Twitter: @ellengunter
Editor: Maja Despot
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