Obama’s Rejection of Keystone XL Is Victory, But That’s Not the Whole Story

‘The black snake, Keystone XL, has been defeated and best believe we will dance to our victory!’

(Photo: tarsandsaction/flickr/cc)

President Obama’s official rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday was met with grand applause from those who opposed the project and organizers who worked tirelessly, despite long odds, to force the administration’s hand.

However, even as celebrations were enjoyed and an evening rally was scheduled outside the White House, there’s more to this story than the simple rejection of a single pipeline and the ultimate climate legacy of a president who has announced a ‘historic’ decision.

Mass Movements Work

Through years of unprecedented campaigning, ordinary people in the United States and Canada turned what could have been an unremarkable rubber stamping of yet another fossil fuel pipeline into an internationally-watched fight to stop climate change. Since 2011, communities across the United States have staged over 750 direct actions and protests across the country—from mass sit-ins at the White House to a tens-of-thousands-strong march on the National Mall. Farmers, workers, students, Indigenous peoples, and communities on the frontlines of oil refineries and extreme weather put their bodies and relationships on the line—risking arrest, talking to their neighbors, and taking to the streets.

“The black snake, Keystone XL, has been defeated and best believe we will dance to our victory!” —Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

“We stood our ground and today President Obama stood with us, the pipeline fighters,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska. “Tonight landowners can finally go to sleep knowing their family is safe and sound. Our unlikely alliance showed America that hard work and scientific facts can beat Big Oil’s threat to our land and water.”

Those interested can sign an online Thank You Card to the Movement that will be delivered to every single person who has participated in an action against the Keystone XL pipeline since over the past four years. And people across the United States are holding rejection parties to relish in “one golden well-deserved moment” of celebration.

Canada’s Win, But Trudeau’s “Disappointment”

Even as they celebrated the KXL rejection, Canadian climate activists on Friday seized on President Barack Obama’s statement that freshly sworn-in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—who publicly supported the project on the campaign trail—had “expressed his disappointment” about the U.S. State Department’s decision on the pipeline.

“President Obama just sent a message that Prime Minister Trudeau should heed—you can’t be a climate leader while supporting tar sands pipelines.” —Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada

Social activist Naomi Klein, for example, tweeted that Trudeau’s reaction was a “BAD way to enter the climate conversation,” because “dirty pipelines are the way of the past.”

The Keystone development came as Canadian environmentalists entered their second of four days of civil disobedience, aimed at convincing Trudeau to freeze tar sands development and commit to a justice-based transition to a clean energy economy.

They took Friday’s news as a chance to double down on their message: “Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sets a new standard for political climate action,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, Stop it at the Source Campaigner with 350.org Canada. “Justin Trudeau needs to take note that it is time now to listen to the science, to Indigenous Peoples, and to freeze tar sands expansion.”

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“President Obama just sent a message that Prime Minister Trudeau should heed—you can’t be a climate leader while supporting tar sands pipelines,” added (pdf) Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “The prime minister needs to follow the president’s lead and recognize that science demands and the public wants action on climate change and that can’t be done while expanding the tar sands.”

Economics of Tar Sands

The pipeline rejection comes amid a continuing plummet in crude oil prices, which has forced some oil giants to ditch certain projects and means dwindling enthusiasm for tar sands production, because, as “the world’s most expensive crude,” it just doesn’t make economic sense.

Bloomberg reported the rejection was just a confirmation that “there’s less appetite for expensive Canadian oil sands in an era of $45 crude.”

Yet the falling price of oil has left TransCanada “undeterred,” and as Christine Tezak, an energy market analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told the New York Times, “How long it takes [to move tar sands crude] is just a result of oil prices. If prices go up, companies will get the oil out.”

A ‘Historic’ Decision? Yes. But Not So Fast on Obama’s Climate Leadership

Obama took the occasion of the Keystone announcement to tout his administration’s environmental track record—but should rejection of this one project be allowed to overshadow his adminstration’s numerous shortcomings when it comes to climate?

“America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” Obama said, adding that “if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.”

However, Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline comes only months after he approved offshore drilling in the Arctic, an affront to climate activists and a near-fatal blow to vulnerable communities and marine life that was only avoided when Royal Dutch Shell called off its exploration project in September.

Through his presidency, Obama has repeatedly been criticized for bragging that he has expanded domestic oil and gas production, and critics say his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy proves he simply does not understand the dangers posed by runaway climate change nor the urgency needed for a rapid and just transition to renewables.

As climate experts have pointed out ahead of the United Nations-sponsored COP21 talks in Paris, beginning later this month, the U.S. is far from a leader in climate action and is one of several wealthy nations that is not meeting its potential to reduce greenhouse gases. Though it has historically been the planet’s leading polluter, the U.S. under Obama has continued to evade its financial obligations to help developing countries deal with the immediate impacts of global warming.

Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation agreement and “corporate power grab nightmare” that Obama has pushed for strongly even as experts warn the deal is an absolute “nightmare” when it comes to environment and, in fact, never even mentions the term “climate change.”

In The Shadow of KXL, A Troubling Network of Pipelines, Oil Trains, and Climate Denial

As Common Dreams has reported extensively, the fight over Keystone XL has not prevented the fossil fuel and pipeline industries on both sides of the U.S./Canada border from aggressively—if quietly—planning, proposing, and building a network of infrastructure projects that collectively “dwarf” KXL in their capacity.

“While the Obama White House Keystone XL decision has been touted by most environmentalists and criticized by Big Oil and its front groups, the truth is much more complex and indeed, dirty.” —Steve Horn, DeSmogBlog

From the “zombie-like” Northern Gateway pipeline that refuses to die in western Canada to the massive eastward proposal known “Energy East,” the major pipeline companies in Canada continue to show their determination in upping the nation’s ability to transport their vast reserves of dirty oil. In addition to the those larger and well-known projects, there are numerous others that continue to threaten communities and the climate across Canada.

In the U.S., a vast network consisting of thousands of miles of new pipelines has been built in recent years. As Steve Horn, a freelance investigative journalist who writes for DeSmogBlog, said on Friday: “While the Obama White House Keystone XL decision has been touted by most environmentalists and criticized by Big Oil and its front groups, the truth is much more complex and indeed, dirty. That’s because for years behind the scenes the Obama Administration has quietly been approving hundreds of miles-long pieces of pipeline owned by pipeline company goliath Enbridge.”

And Daphne Wysham, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for Sustainable Economy in Washington state, added, “The Pacific Northwest is facing the carbon equivalent of five Keystone XL pipelines in the form of coal, gas, and oil via rail and pipeline.”

Meanwhile, the exponential growth of oil-by-rail has become an area of serious concern for environmentalists and community members who have done their best to squelch the false argument that we must choose between the inevitable destruction of a pipeline disaster or the wreckage of the next firey oil train derailment.

As Stephen Kretzmann, of Oil Change International, told Common Dreams in 2013, “There is no use talking about the best way to transport a product which climate science tells us shouldn’t even be being produced … It’s like debating whether or not menthol or regular cigarettes are worse for you. They both kill, and that’s the point.”


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An Ugly Truth Made Pretty

A Cartoonist’s Depiction Of Wealth Inequality

WealthDistribution

Whoa, that’s lopsided!

FACT CHECK TIME. Here’s what our fact checkers found:

This graphic is based on research by The Levy Institute, which uses data from the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Those figures have also appeared in research by the Economic Policy Institute.

I’d be remiss to ignore that the illustration contains a small mistake: That gigantisized money stack on the far left is actually five bundles shorter than it should be. (Sigh…)

Original by Randy Coffey, found on Visual.lyDownload a high-quality PDF of this infographic from RandyCoffeyIllustration.com.

My Thoughts on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo

— by Rich Dunn, NVRDC 2nd Vice Chair

In 1836 Texas declared independence from Mexico, primarily over the issue of slavery, which Mexico had abolished in 1829. Mexico never relinquished sovereignty over Texas, and since slavery was an issue in the United States as well, it wasn’t until 1845 that a Southern president, John Tyler, formally annexed Texas as a slave state, precipitating the Mexican-American War of 1846-1847.

American forces quickly occupied 525,000 square miles of Mexican territories that are now California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and the western parts of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico as an assertion of its “manifest destiny” to become a continental nation. What was left of Mexico was then invaded from several directions, and after a year and a half of war, Mexican forces were forced to surrender.

Under terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico relinquished sovereignty over Texas and ceded the occupied 525,000 square miles in exchange for $15 million (4.5¢ an acre / $1.20 an acre in today’s money) and some important political concessions.

Article 8 of the treaty states that “Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico … shall be free to continue where they now reside” and automatically become full American citizens one year from the exchange of ratifications, so in the context of Article 8, “now” meant May 30, 1949.

Article 9, which was rewritten by the US Senate during the ratification process, redefines “now” as an indefinite “proper time” in the future. It also states that “in the mean time” they “shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.” As congress has yet to decide that the “proper time” for full citizenship has arrived, “in the mean time” means now [2013] and Mexican-born residents of Nevada and other western states still have treaty rights to live and work here, with or without a green card.

Isn’t it time our country followed the law and showed some respect for the people we agreed to share the west with all those years ago? The treaty has no document requirements, so can we please stop calling our Mexican friends and neighbors “undocumented”? And since the treaty clearly recognizes the right of Mexicans to be here, isn’t it time we stopped calling them “aliens”?

It’s also worth looking at what has happened in US-Mexican relations in the decades since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo took effect 165 years ago.

Believing that the treaty meant what it said, the Census Bureau counted Mexican-born residents of the west as US nationals in every census from 1850 to 1920. Only since 1930 have they been treated as foreigners.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was in effect over 40 years before a joint survey team determined exactly where the border actually was, and then only to insure that the US Navy had access to San Diego harbor.

After immigration from Europe and Asia was almost completely shut down in the 1920’s, Mexican workers were actively recruited to relieve the resultant labor shortage.

When the Border Patrol was established in 1924, only ten agents were assigned to watch the entire southern border out of a single office in El Paso, Texas. And they were looking for illegal Chinese immigrants, not Mexicans.

There weren’t even any fences along the southern border until 1949, and then they were only put up to protect US ranchers from cattle infected with hoof and mouth disease.

Though there were mass deportations of questionable legality during the economic depression of the 1930’s, the Bracero program once again recruited Mexican workers to fill labor shortages in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Until 1965, there were no immigration quotas for Mexicans, yet only in the past 50 years have “illegal” workers from Mexico been considered fair game for exploitation that would otherwise be considered illegal, and targeted for detention and summary deportation that make a mockery of due process and basic human rights.

Awareness of the needless deaths, dislocations and disruptions of family life resulting from these draconian measures have become an increasingly heavy burden on America’s collective conscience, so the time has come for all of us to give serious thought to our moral and legal obligations stemming from Articles 8 and 9 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which is both an unfulfilled promise and the law of the land.

Tell Congress: STOP Using Pesticides That Kill Our Bees!

Last month, 50,000 bumble bees died after trees in Wilsonville, Oregon were sprayed with dinotefuran, the neonicotinoid ingredient in Safari pesticide. This was the largest bee die-off ever recorded.

With bee populations declining across and around the country at alarming rates, I urge you to support the “Save America’s Pollinators Act” to restrict the use of these chemicals until we can be assured that they are safe and being used properly.

Take-Action

Why is this important?

From flowers to chocolate, berries to tequila, pollinators are integral to the planet, economy, and many aspects of our lives. In fact, the USDA estimates that about one in every three bites of food is either directly or indirectly made possible because of bee pollination. Both our environment and food supply are inextricably tied to the welfare of bees, making the decrease in bee population a cause for great alarm.

Changes in climate and ecosystems are certainly at least partly responsible for the increase in colony collapses, though man may be playing a more direct role in die-offs than that. Neonicotinoids, a particular type of pesticide, have become increasingly common in the last decade and are suspected to be contributing to the decline in bee populations around the world. The die-off of 50,000 bees in Wilsonville, Oregon – roughly 300 nests – after the application of the neonicotinoid dinotefuran was a call to action.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is investigating the die-off and is temporarily restricting the use of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the use of these chemicals. However, that review is not scheduled to be completed for another five years. Meanwhile, Europe has already moved forward with restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids

We must act now. This week I introduced, H.R. 2692, The Save America’s Pollinators Act, with my friend Congressman John Conyers to suspend certain uses of neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency reviews these chemicals and makes a new determination about their proper application and safe use. This will increase pressure on the EPA to speed their review before another mass bee-die off can occur.

Raising the public awareness of the integral role of pollinators to the world, the precarious state of their population, and what we can do to protect them is of the utmost importance. I’ll hope you’ll join me as a citizen co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Sincerely,
Earl Blumenauer
Member of Congress

Learn more about the Save America’s Pollinators Act:

The Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013

 Congressman Earl Blumenauer • Third District of Oregon • http://www.blumenauer.house.gov

Background

Pollinators—including honeybees, bumble bees, butterflies, and other insects—play an important role in our farms, flower gardens, and food. In fact, some of the crops most important to Oregon’s agricultural economy—blueberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, vegetable seed, squash—are reliant on bees for pollination and reproduction. More than 70% of America’s food sources are pollinated by bees and the worldwide economic value of these crops is as high as $200 billion a year.

America’s bee population is struggling. During the last five years, beekeepers have lost more than 30% of their hives annually. While many factors are believed to contribute to this die-off, significant evidence links the use of a certain class of nicotine-derived pesticides, neonicotinoids, with bee die-offs. In 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of neonicotinoids, citing concern about their impact on honeybee populations. That ban took effect April 29th and is valid for two years.

EPA Review Process

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated a new process to reevaluate pesticides on a regular cycle. Each licensed pesticide is reviewed every fifteen years to confirm that it is being used safely and that its impacts on human health and the environment are properly assessed. Most neonicotinoids are scheduled to be reviewed in 2018.

Legislation

The Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 directs the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend use of the most bee-toxic neonicotinoids for use in seed treatment, soil application, or foliar treatment on bee attractive plants within 180 days, and to review these neonicotinoids and make a new determination about their proper application and safe use. EPA is required to take all peer reviewed data into account when reviewing the use of these neonicotinoids, and to specifically account for any potential impact on the health and viability of pollinator populations.

Given the recent bee die-offs in Hillsboro, Oregon and Wilsonville, Oregon and disturbing preliminary research on the impact of these pesticides, it is clear that they must be evaluated to ensure that their use does not pose an immediate threat to bee populations and the long-term viability of our farms. Until those determinations are made, we cannot risk the potential of putting our farms, food, and families in danger.

The Save America’s Pollinators Act also instructs the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, to issue a report on the native bee populations in the United States, any decline in the population levels, and any potential causes of such decline.


Supported by: Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society, NW Center for Alternatives to Pesticides

For more information on Congressman Blumenauer’s agricultural agenda, please contact Tyler Frisbee (202) 225-4811 or Hillary Barbour (503)231-2300 or visit him on the web at http://www.blumenauer.house.gov.

Supreme Court Bombshell: No Right to Remain Silent

 

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In a 5-4 ruling, the justices ruled that a person no longer has the right to remain silent as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. In relevant part, the Fifth Amendment mandates that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Salinas v. Texas, that part of the Bill of Rights has been excised — and has joined the list of so many other fundamental liberties that now lay on the scrap heap of history.
Here’s a little background of the circumstances of the Salinas case, as told by Slate:
Two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses — only…

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