A Key Proposal for the Administration’s Second Term

It’s up to Obama to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

By Andrew Korfhage

Andrew Korfhage

After avoiding the topic of climate change throughout his second presidential bid, Barack Obama renewed his commitment to the climate in his first news conference following his re-election.

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions,” he said. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

If Obama believes what he said, he’s got a clear choice in front of him at the very beginning of his second term. He needs to reject — once and for all — the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry viscous tar sands petroleum from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s up to Obama to stop the pipeline.

And it’s not a terribly difficult decision. Releasing the carbon from the Canadian tar sands into our atmosphere is a climate disaster waiting to happen. But even beyond the climate argument, it should be hard for the president to argue that it’s important to allow a foreign corporation — TransCanada — to bisect our country with the longest oil pipeline in the Western Hemisphere. This project puts Americans’ land and water at risk of damaging oil spills, while gaining very little for the American people in benefits like jobs and energy security.

The pipeline’s proponents tend to exaggerate its meager benefits.

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For example, estimates of jobs this project would create range only from a high of about 20,000 (TransCanada’s estimate) to as low as 5,000 (the State Department). Even TransCanada acknowledges that its figure includes 13,000 temporary jobs, according to a formula that counts one person working for two years as two jobs. By comparison, the low-impact extension of the wind-energy Production Tax Credit passed as part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations is projected to create and maintain far more clean-energy jobs — up to 54,000 of them.

The pipeline would advance U.S. energy security even less than job creation.

TransCanada can sell its oil — a global commodity — into the global market as it sees fit, which is why the pipeline terminates at a port in the Gulf of Mexico. This oil won’t necessarily stay in the United States. Even if it did, Canadian tar sands petroleum can’t “reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” It is foreign oil. Meanwhile, with both U.S. renewable energy production and oil drilling on the rise under Obama, we’ve already reduced our oil imports by around 1 million gallons a day (or 10 percent) between 2010 and 2011. We can continue lowering oil imports and increasing energy security without the risks of the Keystone pipeline.

In that first post-election press conference, as the East Coast began its recovery from Superstorm Sandy, Obama acknowledged “an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America,” as well as the acceleration of polar ice caps melting and global temperature rise. He took pride in the rise in fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks during his first term, and also acknowledged that “we haven’t done as much as we need to.”

This is Obama’s chance to do much, much more.

Tar sands oil is so much dirtier than conventional crude that Obama’s own EPA calculated that a full-capacity Keystone XL pipeline will add as much as 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere annually. That’s the equivalent of adding 6.2 million more cars to our roads. So much for those new fuel-economy standards.

The damages of the Keystone pipeline will far outweigh its benefits. Obama should reject the Keystone pipeline at the start of his second term.


Andrew Korfhage is Green America’s online and special projects editor. GreenAmerica.org.  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Jobs or the Environment?

Soon it will be too late and we’ll have neither.

— by Lee Ballinger

Lee Ballinger

I know what it’s like to depend upon coal to feed a family.

Many years ago, I worked at an Ohio steel mill. My job was at the coke plant where West Virginia coal was turned into coking coal for the blast furnace. The top of the coke ovens was an area the size of a football field where monstrous machines funneled coal into the ovens.

It was my job to put the heavy oven lids back on nice and tight. It was literally as hot as hell up there. It felt like walking barefoot on hot coals. The air we breathed was truly foul but to us it was the sweet smell of something like success.

We called it the smell of money because it paid the bills.

As soon as I got a chance to escape the coke ovens, I took it. I got a job on a crew at the blast furnace. But I couldn’t escape the coal. Like the devil or a bad check, coal will find you. It followed me to the blast furnace.

DailyGrindBig railroad cars full of coking coal arrived at the blast furnace every two or three hours. In the winter it would get as cold as twenty below zero and the coal would freeze solid into one huge mass. The company said that under no circumstances were we to climb into the open-top railroad cars to break up the coal. But the company also made it clear we better hurry up and get that coal offloaded.

So in we went, carrying big torches to heat the coal and pry bars to break it up. We prayed that it wouldn’t loosen all at once, given the danger that we might go down the chute with it. Many times on a cold winter night I had to gaze at my sleeping babies to motivate myself to leave for work on a midnight shift.

There was a small group of environmentalists in town who were hollering about the pollution from the steel mills. I got their point. But since they didn’t even give lip service to our need to feed our families, I dismissed them. In fact, I hated them and feared the changes they might be able to bring about. Jobs or the environment? That’s an easy choice. Jobs are more important.

Eventually, I was permanently downsized from the mill. The loss of my job caused severe dislocation for my family. It also made me see things in a new light. Facts and events that had once gone in one ear and out the other suddenly registered. Global warming. Poisoned rivers and oceans. Black lung disease. Hurricane Katrina. Oil spills. Coal-fired power plants spewing acid and deadly metals into our air.

Slowly and not always surely, I began to realize that the environmentalists I had once rejected as extremists were correct when they said that fossil fuels are destroying the earth. Coal and oil aren’t just causing some problems we can learn to live with in pursuit of economic survival. They are going to make it impossible for humans to live on this planet.

Jobs or the environment? Posing the question that way eliminates any chance of coming up with answers. It ignores the people who live at ground zero of the debate. I know first-hand what goes through the minds of coal miners as they sit at the kitchen table facing a pile of bills. “Yes, I know what some people say. They may even be right. But just give me one more month on this job so I can pay the rent, along with the electric and the credit card bills.”

Jobs or the environment? Soon it will be too late and we’ll have neither. Unless we come together under the banner of both.


Lee Ballinger is the West Coast Editor of Rock & Rap Confidential and the author of Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History. He can be reached at rockrap@aol.com.
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)