Keystone XL

By: Raina Kamrat

Dear polarized Congress,

We must stop building oil pipelines. I’m going to delineate my argument using the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, because it’s six year political stalemate makes it the symbolic Big oil vs. Environment case. Although the State Department evaluated a small environmental impact from KXL, it also found that tar sands oil produces at least 17 percent more carbon pollution than any other oil extraction method. Alberta tar sands oil (known and from here on referred to as bitumen) produces high levels of air pollution from its production and use, threatens our dwindling water supply, and disrespects not only the environment, but humanity as well.
There are two methods to glean oil from bitumen: (1) strip-mining and heating, which has caused the destruction of acres of the Alberta forests, or (2) pumping steam into the sand, generating unmanageable levels of toxic runoff. Since 2000, we have ruined nearly two million acres of the Alberta forest. Passing the KXL pipeline paves the way for further destruction. Woodland caribou, migratory birds, lynx, and grizzly bears are suffering from the loss of their feeding and nesting grounds. The Alberta forest — not to mention the fact that it took millions of years to form — also purified groundwater, stored carbon, and protected the land from floods.
“Nobody really knows how to put a boreal forest back together once it has been stripped of its trees, soil, wetlands, and fish-bearing rivers,” New York Times contributor Andrew Nikiforuk reported on the Alberta forest.

We stand to lose not only this magnificent forest and all its wildlife, but many other ecosystems from the water pollution and potential oil spills from KXL. Along the Athabasca River, dozens of lakes already saturated with industrial excrement from bitumen mining have begun leaking into groundwater, and the 2,000 miles of KXL pipeline has the potential to contaminate freshwater supplies throughout the route, within the U.S.’ agricultural heartland,
“If you contaminate the aquifer,” Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Cyril Scott informed ThinkProgress, “we can’t drink, we can’t grow crops. Where are we going to get our water, from Congress?”
I sincerely hope you have backup wildlife and flora, as well, for the millions of species threatened by oil mining, oil spills, and fossil fuel pollution.

I openly admit that KXL will probably not be the tipping point for the environment. It is, after all, just one pipeline transferring oil that TransCanada still plans on selling. However, we should never underestimate the power of our decisions. If Congress follows the president and rejects the KXL pipeline, we will be the first world power to declare we are determined to invest in the health of our planet before that of our economy (which stands to gain only 35 permanent jobs; even the highest estimate — 40,000 shovel-ready jobs — represents only five percent of the jobs cut by the sequestration, jobs that could easily be created by funding America’s crumbling infrastructure [Amen, Paul Krugman]).
“When I was elected and took my oath of office,” Scott continued, “I said I would protect the next seven generations.”

That mentality — serving not just the interests of one constituency group for a few short terms, but the interests of a nation for 175 years — could just improve our government. We have a responsibility to preserve the integrity of our planet. It is not a shiny new toy we can replace or outgrow, and we should stop treating it like one. It is the home of every single creature that, as far as we know, even exists. In the entire universe.
Blocking the KXL pipeline, while hurting potential jobs and oil interests, is a symbol of commitment to continuing life on this planet.
“Effective leaders,” Harvard professor Nancy Koehn wrote, “are individuals who help us overcome the limitations of our own selfishness and weaknesses and fears and get us to do harder, better, more important things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

Please, make the hard decision. See the long-term harms of environmental damage and prevent the wasteland of the future over economic strain now. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes to salvage the destruction.

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