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Tar Sands Conflict Still as Thick as Tar


BRADENTON -- The TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline will journey from Canada to the Gulf Of Mexico, through six states and over 1,700 miles, to deliver what environmentalists say is the dirtiest oil on earth. Most opponents say the extraction, transport and burning of this tar sands oil presents a high environmental risk every step of the way. They claim that if the pipeline is approved, curbing greenhouse gases will be a thing of the past.   


Nebraska is one of the states that the pipeline will travel through, and its legislature is currently in session, deciding whether the pipeline should be rerouted around its Ogallala Aquifer, the region's source for drinking water. President Obama has announced the Keystone XL decision will be temporarily put on hold, to see if the pipeline can be redirected around the aquifer. Nebraska would be reckless and irresponsible to let the pipeline travel across the Sandhills region above the Ogallala, it being the most significant water resource involved. This delay might buy time to reveal the many other perils plaguing this project in other geographical areas along its route.  



Last Sunday, more than 12,000 protesters marched through the streets around the White House objecting to how the President is handling the process. Many see his actions as par for the course he's been taking since his election; that is, surrounding himself with industry power brokers (finance, oil and mining) so to cry wolf when it's time to fold on his promises.   


The President first announced that the decision would be in the hands of the State Department, and most feared the approval would be a done deal, especially since a former top aid to the Secretary of State was hired as a consultant. But now, up against a plethora of controversy, President Obama has decided to delay his decision. This will push the final verdict past the next election and maybe into the hands of a new Commander and Chief. Since virtually every potential Republican presidential opponent has called for less regulation and more domestic production of fossil fuels, there is little doubt as to what will happen in that scenario.


Still the charge of impropriety prevails. Paul Elliott  was Deputy Campaign Director for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her run for the presidential nomination in 2008, and is now TransCanada's chief lobbyist. His open door access to the State Department is in question, as is his frequent meetings with officials, while at the same time, environmental groups claim access to meet with the State Department has been very limited. 


The pressure is on the President. It's been reported that other state officials have quit their jobs and are now high paid lobbyists for TransCanada. Legislatures in the states along the path of the pipeline have recently seen contributions from oil companies in amounts far larger than any other period. 


There too, the door swings both ways. Mother Jones reported Broderick Johnson, a former lobbyist for TransCanada, has now been hired as senior advisor for President Obama's reelection campaign. It seems the President's position is in conflict by design, and there's more. The Environmental News Service reported that 15 Democratic lawmakers have recently written a letter to the State Department's Office asking the Inspector General to probe whether the department's review of the proposed pipeline has been compromised by conflicts of interest.


Cited in the letter are legislative and citizen concerns stemming from a financial relationship between Cardno Entrix and TransCanada. Canada officials suggested the U.S. State Department select Cardno Entrix to perform the required EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). The EIS fell under criticism when the public found out Entrix listed TransCanada as a "major client." 


In a separate letter reported by Environmental News Service, the lawmakers urged President Obama to "hold off on any final decision on the pipeline until a independent Inspector General investigation is completed, made public and fully evaluated." 


Many groups have sent letters to the President and the Inspector General, complaining about the multitude of ethics violations and safety oversights that have occurred during the EIS process, increasing the possibility of errors and their cover-ups.


These concerns were heightened when the New York Times reported that TransCanada lobbyists had exchanged emails with State Department officials about their intentions to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressure than normally allowed in the United States in order to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.


The emails were between Ms. Verloop (Counselor for Energy and Environment at the United States Embassy in Ottawa) and TransCanada's lobbyist Paul Elliott. Her concerns were whether TransCanada could reapply to use higher pipeline pressure in the future. Elliott replied, "You are correct."


Such requests after approval need no more than a sub-departmental consent and without an oversight committee. This is how oil companies and other polluters get around even the smallest amount of regulation. If, once in operation, something did happen because of inept oversight, oil companies have always found that asking for forgiveness instead of permission is most cost effective. 


For example: BP's reckless practices cost them less than 1/4 of their annual profits, and those costs were retrieved at the pump before any fines were paid. As was the case with the Exxon Valdez, the catastrophic mistake will end up costing the company essentially nothing.


It seems that little has changed since the last administration, except the way senior officials dress-up and put lipstick on their excuses. The disparity of wealth is running even more rapid than in any time in the past. The amount of homeless and hunger is nearing that of the Great Depression and President Obama says he is doing the best he can, but for whom? He has given the corporate power brokers he is beholden to nearly everything they want.


Like his predecessor, he will try and convince us otherwise, but the record is hard to dispute. The President has received more big-bank Wall Street money than any Presidential candidate in history. He allowed 1,200 Americans to be arrested for protesting the pipeline in front of the White House in late August - early September, and stood by while little to no coverage was picked up by the press.


The President says he wants "the best for the economy, short and long term." The truth is, keep doing what your doing and you'll keep getting what you've got. All numbers point to more jobs, prosperity, public savings and a cleaner environment when investing in alternative sources like rooftop solar energy, with reversible meters. Those savings go to the residents, not the corporations, and the jobs are created now. The 99 percent say that this corporatism as capitalism charade must stop. We need the real jobs and deficit savings now, not pipelines and not pipe dreams that come at such terrific financial and environmental costs to this and future generations of Americans.  


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