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October 12, 2011

What's that Smell? Keystone XL

Three months ago, I wrote an op-ed for the L.A. Times that listed the "Koch brothers-backed" Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar-sands oil as one of the most important environmental issues confronting President Obama. That prompted a stern missive from the Legal Department at Koch Industries, which even got the Times to run a correction saying that Koch Industries "says it has no involvement in the project."

Only problem: It now turns out that three years ago a Canadian subsidiary of Koch Industries said exactly the opposite: That it had "a direct and substantial interest" in seeing the Keystone XL pipeline approved. Whoops.

But, really, I feel like I've been vindicated for observing that "the sun rises in the east." Let’s get real here. No reasonable person could have doubted that the Koch brothers, who are in the tar-sands business up to their Windsor-knotted neckties, could possibly not have been in favor of the Keystone XL. (Note to the good folks at Koch Industries Legal Dept: This is called poetic license. I humbly confess that I have no idea how Charles and David knot their ties, so please don’t come seize my house.)

Unfortunately, the hypocrisy of the Koch brothers pales in comparison to the State Department's role in the Keystone XL debacle. Last summer, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that her department would leave "no stone unturned" as it prepared its environmental impact report. But when the report appeared, there were unturned stones everywhere:

  • No study of the consequences of a raw tar-sands oil spills or the difficulties of cleaning up the inevitable spills was done.
  • No analysis of the clean-energy alternatives to the pipeline or of how extracting Canadian tar sands oil would affect their development.
  • No serious assessment of alternatives to a route that crosses the Ogallala Aquifer (which underlies more than a quarter of our country's irrigated land).
  • No study of how more pollution would affect Gulf refinery towns like Port Arthur, TX, which is already one of our country's most polluted communities.
  • No analysis of the impact on wildlife, such as the lesser sandhill cranes that use Nebraska's central Platte River valley as a stopover on their migration north.
  • An incomplete and faulty analysis of how extracting and burning tar-sands oil will affect climate disruption. 

There's more, but you get the gist. How could the Department of State have gotten it so wrong? Keystone XL, after all, is a 1,700-mile pipeline that will do nothing for Americans except seize their land through eminent domain, expose them to catastrophic oil spills and toxic pollution, and make domestic gas more expensive -- all so a foreign oil company, TransCanada, can ship its tar-sands oil overseas from our ports. It's such a bad idea that, in Texas, the Sierra Club and the Tea Party actually allied to oppose it (I think the sun actually did rise in the west on that day).

Sorry to say, the answer is that this was government at its most tawdry. The Department of State allowed a former Clinton campaign staff member, working as a TransCanada lobbyist, inappropriate access to high level officials within the Department and hired a biased pro-oil contracting firm to do the actual evaluation and run public hearings.

The more Americans learn about Keystone XL and the big-money campaign behind it, the worse the whole thing smells. Whether or not to permit this travesty is still one of the most important decisions facing President Obama. It's time for him to clear the air, kill this Koch brothers-backed pipeline, and let the State Department get back to issuing passports and visas.  


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Michael Brune

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