Aysha Rüya Cohen is an experienced professional in transit and land use with ties to the United States and Eurasia. Follow her @AyshaRuyaCohen.
An estimated 50,000 people from the United States and Canada marched together in freezing temperatures and through 26 mph in Washington, D.C. in a rally billed as the ”largest climate change rally in US history” on Sunday, February 17, 2013. Simultaneous rallies were held across the nation, from Montana to Oregon, to send a clear message to move forward on economically sound, ecologically sensitive and socially equitable climate change solutions during this Administration’s second term. Protesters rallied from Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Mall , chanting slogans and carrying home made puppets and props, including a Keystone XL Pipeline replica reading, ”Separate Oil from State”.
The rally successfully united 168 diverse organizations, including Native American and First Nations leaders, the NAACP, the Green Zionist Alliance, National Nurses United and the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. pilut blog attended the rally with the sole sustainable transit organization, Americans for Transit.
From former Presidential Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Van Jones, to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), prominent voices rang clear in the protest. Grasstops and grassroots alike found common cause, with First Nations indigenous leaders marching alongside former hedge fund manager and billionaire investor, Tom Steyer, both calling for a better alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline.
The timing of the rally was set to coincide with the Administration’s decision to approve the northern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would eventually connect Canada, to the Gulf of México. “There is nothing else you can do if you let that pipeline go through. It doesn’t matter what you do on smog rules and automobile rules – you’ve already given the whole game away,” said Van Jones, on the impending decision to move forward with the pipeline.
Keystone So Far
Less than halfway completed, the Keystone XL pipeline has already caused concerns, spilling diluted bitumen 12 times in its first year alone, with serious implications for the surrounding residential and commercial districts.
The toxic and highly volatile nature of the tar sands Keystone XL transports – under high temperatures & pressure – has caused potentially explosive leaks that are harder to detect and clean than conventional oil spills, according to the U.S. Department of State Environmental Impact Statement. These result in nearly 60% of residents reporting neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, according to the NRDC.
Further failures have proven dangerous per the Congressional Research Service’s 2013 report on the pipeline, with 21,000 gallons of oil spilled in just one single incident. Just like the 1.1 million gallon, $765 million spill in Enbridge, Montana, this toxic spill in Ludden, North Dakota was left undetected by Keystone XL’s monitors, and instead reported by local residents. To date, there have been a total of 14 spills from the Keystone XL pipeline, causing activists to warn, “Absent a witness to a spill, a leak in a remote area could potentially go undetected for a long period.’’
Each of these 14 spills continues to have long-lasting effects on public health, property values, freshwater resources and the tourism industry.
Business and property owners from Montana to Nebraska have already filed class action lawsuits in response to the damage done to their freshwater and livelihood. The pipeline intersects the largest source of freshwater in the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer, which feeds and an additional 1,904 waterways leading to major Midwestern cities. A 255-mile strip would be craved through Nebraskan farmland. Forest lands and wildlife could need 20 or more years to recover. Organic farmers risk losing their certification from the chemicals the construction releases. In total, 7,157 acres of farmland and 11,122 acres of rangeland would be affected by the pipeline, including the removal of crops, contamination of irrigation and drainage systems and the degradation of top soil according to the Environmental Impact Statement. Business profits dropped an estimated 35% a year near spill sites and millions of blue collar and white collar workers alike have united against the temporary and minimum wage jobs Keystone XL creates.
The tourism sector fears a negative impact to their $67 billion dollar industry which employs 780,000 Americans. Effected states include Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas whose recreational waters, state parks, forests, wildlife refuges and historic trails would be intersected by the pipeline. Route 66, the Lewis and Clark trail, the Pony Express and the Oregon Trail are among those scenic historic routes impacted by Keystone XL.
The President has allies in the land use, environmental, interfaith and labor movements to create the kinds of long-term, high-skill and good paying manufacturing jobs that the green economy has and will continue to create. Investing in this one, unsustainable resource may not yield the path to energy independence, nor the green jobs promised in its development.