Keystone XL Pipeline Approved – Or Maybe Not

Keystone Pipeline OklahomaBoth the U.S. House and Senate have now approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Once the two versions of the bill go through a brief reconciliation process the finalized bill will be sent to the President for his signature. He must decide within ten days whether to sign it into law or veto it.

The House with its increased Republican majority took up the Keystone bill as its first item of major business. House Resolution 3 was introduced on Jan 6, 2015 and passed on Jan 9.

The Republican-led Senate then took up the bill as its first item of business and, after lengthy debate and some amendments, passed its version of the bill on Jan 29.

Sen. John Barrasso (photo courtesy U.S. Senate - click to enlargMembers supporting the Keystone XL bill argued that the pipeline is vitally important to the U.S. economy, saying it would add thousands of new jobs. For example, Sen. John Barrasso on Wyoming claimed on Meet the Press on Jan. 4 that, “[Obama’s] own State Department said it’s 42,000 new jobs.”

The only problem is, as Emily Atkin of ThinkProgress has pointed out,

The State Department did not say the Keystone XL pipeline would create 42,000 new jobs. Instead, it said the project would “support” 42,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, 99 percent of which would be temporary, not lasting more than the two years it would take to construct. Once the project is completed, the State Department estimates that the pipeline would only create 35 full-time jobs.

These 35 jobs would be all that is needed for “routine inspections, maintenance and repair.”

construction of the gas pipelineSo how many actual short-term construction jobs (rather than secondary spin-off jobs) would be generated by this project? TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the project that would be shipping the oil through the U.S., has estimated that

the pipeline will create no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years,

or an average of 1,950 jobs each year.

TransCanada has also stated that the total cost over the two years of construction has now gone up from $5.4 billion to an estimated be $8 billion. That’s a lot of money for relatively few jobs. You really have to ask yourself if that is money well spent.

Of course, once the pipeline is operational it will send up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian heavy (tar sands) oil through the U.S. per day to Gulf Coast refineries. That is bound to help the U.S. economy by alleviating dependency on foreign oil imports. Right? Except that this refined product is primarily destined for export to other countries. Don’t look for it to flood American markets and reduce the price of gas at the pumps.

As President Barack Obama stated at his 2014 year-end press conference,

At issue in Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of the tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it through the United States and all the way down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to [the] Gulf, it is then entering into the world market and it would be sold all around the world.

CO2In the meantime, mining (yes mining) and liquefying this tar sands oil produces significantly more hydrocarbon emissions than conventional crude oils and is more damaging to the environment.

A study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute concluded that the pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is four times the amount originally estimated by the U.S. State Department in its assessment of the environmental impact of the pipeline. As Adam Howard reported for MSNBC,

The results could have a traumatic effect on the planet’s atmosphere, which is already reeling from the prolonged effects of climate change.

Lac-Megantic-Oil-FireThe kind of oil to be shipped through the pipeline is also much more toxic, explosive (recall the catastrophic explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Québec in 2013, and harder to clean up than conventional oil when spilled. As Emily Atken explains,

cold lake tar sands bitumen spill_0When it spills, tar sands oil does not float on top of water like conventional crude. Instead, … it gradually sinks to the bottom. … This makes normal clean-up techniques and equipment of little use.

The XL pipeline is certain to provide increased profits for a few major oil producers, but will have little overall impact on job creation or boosting the American economy. Instead, it will create a greater hazard to the environment and to public safety. The bottom line: it is an ill-conceived, politically motivated, and environmentally hazardous piece of legislation that deserves to die.

President Obama has said that he will veto this bill when it comes across his desk. Let us hope that he is true to his word.

Image credits:Sue Ogrocki/AP; Sustainability Ninja

The BBC, Climate Change, and Responsible Journalism

Confused about climate change? Tired of seeing reputable scientists constantly having to defend their claims against self-appointed deniers? The BBC has just done something about that.

BBC-NewsThe British Broadcasting Corporation is respected around the world for its high standards of fair and balanced journalism. It is a voice that people have learned to trust. But in striving to be impartial in its news coverage, the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, discovered a problem – a “false balance” that comes from giving equal time to two sides of an argument when one side lacks basic support.

This false balance typically occurs, for example, when one person who is well-versed on climate science is paired with another who denies climate science, and the two debate the issue. Rather than presenting a balanced view of both sides of the issue, what actually happens is that the minority position is made to seem equally viable even if its claims are widely discredited within the scientific community.

The scientific understanding of the various factors contributing to climate change has become incredibly refined in recent decades. As a result of exhaustive research into this phenomenon, today

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.

Providing the dissenting 3 percent with equal time to promote their own views thus creates a false balance in scientific reporting.

The BBC’s governing body recognized this problem and has taken measures to correct it. As a result of the BBC Trust’s recently released Executive Report on Scientific Impartiality,

Reporters for BBC News are being directed to significantly curb the amount of air time they give to people with anti-science viewpoints — including people who deny climate change exists — in order to improve the accuracy and fairness of the network’s news coverage

However, the BBC would not completely exclude such minority views from its reporting. The Report clearly states,

This does not mean that critical opinion should be excluded. Nor does it mean that scientific research shouldn’t be properly scrutinized.

The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices.”

Although the BBC has taken measures to curtail this false balance in reporting on scientific issues, the American media has so far not done the same. Last October Media Matters for America released a detailed report that shows how skewed the coverage of climate change is in the American media.

One of its findings was the fact that in August and September 2013 “Half Of Print Outlets Used False Balance On Existence Of Manmade Warming.” While only 3 percent of scientists reject human activity as a major factor in global warming,

doubters comprised over 18 percent of those quoted by Bloomberg News, Los Angeles TimesThe Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – giving this minority view over five times the amount of representation it has in the scientific community. Half of those quoted in The Wall Street Journal were doubters, about 29 percent in Los Angeles Times, about 17 percent in The Washington Post and about 12 percent in Bloomberg News.

Furthermore, “Doubters Dominated On Fox News, The Majority Of Whom Were Unqualified.”

Fox News tipped the balance toward those on the opposite side of the facts, as 69 percent of guests and 75 percent of mentions cast doubt on climate science. Seventy-three percent of doubters hosted by Fox News had no background in climate science.


Media Matters chart1

In addition, “Doubters Were More Likely To Lack Scientific Credentials.”

Of those quoted who denied that humans are the dominant driver of global warming, about 81 percent did not have a background in climate science. Instead, some media opted for bloggers, political figures, and media pundits to disparage the scientific consensus on climate change.

Media Matters chart2

The consensus on climate change among scientists continues to grow. For example, the geochemist James Lawrence Powell recently conducted an exhaustive search of peer-reviewed scientific literature on global warming.

Powell went through every scientific study published in a peer-review journal during the calendar year 2013, finding 10,885 in total. Of those, a mere two rejected anthropogenic global warming [that is, global warming produced through human activity].



The evidence of climate change and global warming is overwhelming. [Watch this video] The research scientists have convincingly documented their findings.

It’s time to end this false balance in the media’s reporting.

Rand Paul Caught Lying on EPA Rules

Rand PaulOn Tuesday Sen. Rand Paul gave an interview on Fox News in which he denounced the EPA’s new rules on carbon emissions. In an apparent reference to the failed attempt in 2009 to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the Senate (which had already been passed by the House), to Paul stated,

The Democrats tried to pass [cap and trade] and they didn’t have enough votes so now they’re going to try to do this through executive edict, and I don’t think that’s legal.

Yet as Rebecca Leber reports today in Think Progress,

[T]he truth is that Congress directed the EPA to tackle air pollution, including carbon, and that authority has been upheld twice by the Supreme Court. Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to develop regulations for “air pollution which may endanger public health or welfare.” In 2007 and again in 2011, the Supreme Court said carbon pollution fits under that category. The 2007 landmark ruling found that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of air pollutant.”

Most people aren’t aware of the legislative background mandating these rules. But certainly a prominent Senator should be. For him to suggest that he doesn’t think they are “legal” is dishonest, deceptive, and inexcusable.

We should expect better from the members of Congress.

Photo credit: Harry E. Walker/MCT


Republicans Reverse Stance on Climate Change

coal-electricity generator

A year ago President Obama pledged to take effective action against climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with developing regulations to limit carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, and this week they released these new rules. The cap-and trade system would require power plants to cut their carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030.

mitch_mcconnellLeading Republican spokespersons almost immediately condemned the measures. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a press release stating that, “Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.”  John Boehner called it “a sucker punch for families everywhere.”  And the Republican National Committee posted a lengthy list of links on its “Research” website claiming that Obama is launching a “war on coal,” that the new regulations will kill jobs, and that coal plants across the country are already being forced to shut down.

What Republican in their right mind would support such regulations?

john-mccainWell, as reported today on, back in 2008 while campaigning in Oregon, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain unveiled a cap-and-trade plan to limit emissions not only from power plants, but also from transportation, manufacturing, and commercial businesses. It would reduce emissions by 66% by the year 2050. It was much more ambitious than the plan just announced by the EPA. [See details here] Several months later Sarah Palin joined MaCain’s ticket, and when asked if she supported this cap-and-trade plan, she announced, “I do.”

Even George W. Bush was worried about climate change. As his biographer, Peter Baker, records

george-w-bush,property=poster[Bush] found the science increasingly persuasive and believed more needed to be done. The end of his presidency loomed, and he did not want to be known as the president who stood by while a crisis gathered. … [He] cited the danger of climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time, convened a conference of major world polluters to start working on an international accord to follow Kyoto, and signed legislation cutting gasoline consumption and, by extension, greenhouse gases.

Back then many politicians- both Republicans and Democrats – were concerned about climate change. Do you remember the famous bi-partisan political ad featuring Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi sitting side by side calling on Americans to take action against climate change? [Watch it here:]

So what has changed? Climate change denial remains strong in some conservative circles, and perhaps the politicians are simply catering to that segment of their base. Perhaps it is politics, with Republican leaders trying to firm up their support in coal producing states. Or perhaps it is that these latest measures come from a Democratic administration, and therefore must be denounced whether they have merit or not.

Whatever the politics, climate change itself remains real. Does Obama’s plan go too far? As notes,

The power plant regulations [of] the Obama administration … are far less ambitious than the proposal McCain offered in Oregon in 2008. They’re less ambitious than the proposals Newt Gingrich championed.

Bloomberg calls the new measures announced this week “historic but modest.” At one time we were prepared to do much more. It’s time to remember where politicians used to stand on climate change.

It’s time to take effective action.



Be Careful Who You Pick On, Joe

XL_pipelineJoe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, was in Washington, D.C. last week to promote the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This massive construction project would transport Canadian tar sands oil some 2000 miles from Alberta through the U.S. Midwest to Oklahoma for refining, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico for export to other countries.

Environmentalists have been critical of the project, saying that the increased tar sands production would emit at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year into the atmosphere, significantly warming the Earth’s climate.

TarSandsThe International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that

With current policies in place, global temperatures are set to increase 6 degrees Celsius, which has catastrophic implications.

If, on the other hand, the international community is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (the agreed upon target under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), then 80% of the world’s existing reserves of oil, coal and gas must be left undeveloped. Canada’s continued development of this extremely dirty fossil fuel thus seriously undermines the goal of sustainability.

Nevertheless, Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper’s Conservative government continue to push for the rapid development of the Canadian tar sands.

JamesHansenLast year James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and a leading climate change activist, stated in an article in The New York Times that if Canada proceeds with its plans to export oil from its tar sands reserves “and we do nothing, it will be game over for the planet.”

Late last month Joe Oliver decided to pick a fight with Hansen, calling Hansen’s statement “nonsense,” and accusing him of “crying wolf.” In an interview with reporters Oliver stated,

It does not advance the debate when people make exaggerated comments that are not rooted in the facts.

Oliver then listed the benefits he said will come from the Keystone XL pipeline project. He added that Canadian “oilsands development will continue, whether the Keystone pipeline is approved or not.”

al gore global warmingThis week Oliver decided to take on Al Gore. In last Saturday’s interview with The Globe And Mail, Gore said we should stop treating the atmosphere like an “open sewer.” Oliver accused him of making “wildly inaccurate and exaggerated comments.” He claims that Canada has done much to reduce emissions into the atmosphere saying, “We’ve done a lot, we’re going to do more. I’m very proud of our record, and it’s a record that we’re happy to stand on.”

Yet Canada’s record is not as stellar as Oliver suggests. In 2011 Canada was awarded the Fossil of the Year award at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban for its failure to address climate change. It was the fifth year in a row that Canada was given this award, prompting the criticism that

Canada’s actions have become so egregious that they have been left behind on the sidelines of global climate progress.

Oliver continues to believe the so-called dangers of climate change are vastly overblown. Many in the scientific community are concerned that Oliver fails to take the scientific data seriously. This week a group of 12 prominent Canadian climate scientists responded to Oliver’s criticism of Gore. They released a letter to him in which they offered to help the minister “understand the scientific data behind climate change and energy development.”

The letter states,

We are at a critical moment. … The longer we delay the transition to [a] low-carbon economy, the more drastic, disruptive and costly that transition will be. The implication is clear: the responsibility for preventing dangerous climate change rests with today’s policymakers.

One of the letter’s authors, David Keith, a Canadian who teaches public policy and engineering at Harvard University, was quite blunt in stating that the Canadian government needs to “grow up” in its attitude toward climate change and stop “using the atmosphere as a waste dump for carbon.”

We may think of scientists as a bunch of nerdy introverts who rarely emerge from their laboratories. But they are increasingly in the public spotlight these days. And when they are attacked, they stand together and come out swinging.

Be careful, Joe Oliver, when you pick a fight.

Earth Day 2013 – Getting Subversive

Earthday2013_logo_smallHappy Earth Day!

Yes, Earth Day – a day in support of environmental protection – is being celebrated on April 22 this year in 192 different countries, involving more than 25,000 organizations and millions of participants.

But wait. Didn’t we celebrate Earth Day just last month? Yes we did. There are actually 2 official Earth Days each year.

 Earth Day – A Brief History

earth-day-1970-quotes_1365999847Back in 1969 a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco proposed that the Date of March 21, 1970 (the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere) be set aside as a day to promote environmental protection worldwide. The Secretary General of the United Nations later signed a proclamation to this effect. Since then this date has been observed annually as “Earth Day.”

Perhaps inspired by this development, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson set April 22, 1970 as the day for a nation-wide teach-in on environmental issues. It was a huge success, involving “participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States.”

hands-globe2_2pb6The 20th anniversary of Earth Day was marked in 1990 with a series of high-profile events involving some 200 million people in 141 different countries. A similar major anniversary event was held on the 30th anniversary in 2000. This time “5,000 environmental groups around the world were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries.”

The Earth Day Network headed by Denis Hayes, one of the original national coordinators of the 1970 Earth Day events, now coordinates these ongoing activities. The network

has grown into an established Washington, DC-based organization that promotes environmental activism and year-round progressive action, domestically and internationally. … Earth Day Network members focus on environmental education; local, national, and global policies; public environmental campaigns; and organizing national and local earth day events to promote activism and environmental protection.

The international network reaches more than 25,000 organizations in 192 countries, while the domestic program engages 10,000 groups and more than 100,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental-protection activities throughout the year.

Why April 22nd?

earth-day-photoGaylord Nelson originally set April 22 as the day for his coordinated “teach-ins” in 1970 in order to maximize participation on college campuses in the U.S. The week of April 19-25 was after the spring break and before exams; it did not conflict with religious holidays like Easter and Passover; and it was late enough to have decent spring weather. To avoid competition with weekend events, he set the day for the middle of the week – Wednesday, April 22.

Coincidentally April 22, 1970 also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin. Time magazine reported at the time that some people suspected the choice of this date was not a coincidence, but “a Communist trick.” The magazine even quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as saying

subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.

By all means we must watch out for those “subversive elements” that would plot to create an environment that would actually be good for our children! We have seen how negligent industry has been to monitor and remedy the environmental hazards it creates. We have seen how slow governments have been to respond to environmental pollution and the effects of climate change.

It is time for more of us to join that subversive network of concerned citizens who wish to make out planet environmentally safe for future generations. This Earth Day is a good time to commit ourselves to that task.

Welcome fellow subversives!