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Steve Horn from DeSmog-Blog joins us to talk about most important but least covered environmental stories

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

According to a recent USA Today poll, a majority of Americans now believe that the climate is changing and that it is due to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels. Twenty-fourteen has been a year where climate change took front and center with a mass movement erupting against environmental issues like the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline that would dirty tar sand oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, where it would be refined and shipped overseas. Fracking has also created a nationwide backlash.

But behind the mainstream headlines promoting an environmentally friendly Obama administration, there is another story to be told.

With us to discuss his picks of the most important but least covered energy and environmental stories for the year is investigative journalist Steve Horn. He is joining us from Miami, Florida, where he’s on holiday. Steve Horn is a research fellow for DeSmogBlog. He is a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Steve.

STEVE HORN, RESEARCH FELLOW, DESMOGBLOG: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

PERIES: And while in Florida, at that. So we really appreciate you coming on The Real News.

So, Steve, let’s get right to the point here. Reestablishing the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline is high on the priorities for the new, Republican-dominated House and Senate. President Obama has publicly said he is not in favor of the pipeline. Let’s have a look.


PERIES: But according to your investigative work, there’s more to this story. Tell us about the pipeline that Obama quietly did approve.

HORN: Two thousand fourteen was the year for Enbridge. Enbridge is a company based in Edmonton, in Canada, and Enbridge was able to basically permit what I’ve been calling a Keystone XL clone, a pipeline that goes from Alberta and tar sands all the way down to Port Arthur, Texas, and the Houston Ship Channel down in Texas, the same exact areas where the Keystone XL is slated to go that’s owned by TransCanada. They have been able to do it with almost no media scrutiny, basically, until the end of the year, when it was all said and done, when a bunch of stories were published.

But throughout the whole process when they were doing it, the media just wasn’t covering it, didn’t know it was happening, or was lazy. There’s a number of reasons why it was getting covered, including another reason that I would say is that environmental groups, unfortunately, have focused on almost Keystone XL [in exclusivity (?)]. So they’ve in part driven this media discussion about how important the Keystone XL is and how it’s a sort of climate legacy issue for the Obama administration.

But while they’ve done that, they haven’t talked about another climate legacy issue with the Obama administration. That’s this Keystone XL clone. And what it is: it’s three pieces. It is the Alberta Clipper, which President Obama did permit into existence in August 2009 during congressional recess. That is a 400,000 barrels per day pipeline that’s now seeking an expansion to double its capacity. Then there’s the Flanagan South, which was approved via a very controversial nationwide 12 permitting process through the Army Corps of Engineers, in which they called a very long pipeline 2,000-plus single and complete project so they’re able to go through this Nationwide Permit 12 process that is usually only used for infrastructure projects that are half an acre in size or smaller, hence the 2,000-plus pieces legal maneuvering by Enbridge that the Army Corps of Engineers allowed it to do. Then, lastly, there’s the Seaway Twin Pipeline that–it goes from Cushing, Oklahoma, down to the Gulf in Texas. So those three pieces, they’re nominally three in name, three pipelines. But in practice it’s a single pipeline system. If you look at Enbridge’s documents, they call it its Gulf access pipeline, basically. So it’s one pipeline. And they all connect one another. It’s the same tar sands.

And the most–I think the–bringing [it (?)] to today, in that the Alberta Clipper expansion project, it was supposed to go through the very same process that the Keystone XL is now going through, because it’s a border-crossing pipeline. So the State Department would have to approve it. So would President Obama.

But what happened over the summer in two thousand–you know, this year, is that they were able to completely usurpe the project with the rubberstamp of the State Department. What they did is had their attorney, Enbridge had their attorney write a letter to the State Department NGO and requesting that they don’t have to go through that whole process, and then by August they got a letter back from the State Department saying, sure, that’s fine, you can do that. And so the first time that anyone even knew that this was happening, this was all happening behind closed doors meetings and in meetings, and then in these letters. These letters are actually published in the Federal Register, basically, again, during congressional recess in 2014, this summer. So that’s how we found out that through some maneuvering, the Alberta Clipper will also now be expanded. So that’s why this expansion was important, because now the same amount of oil that’s going to flow through the Keystone XL and the Keystone pipeline system that TransCanada owns will now flow through the Enbridge system. So it was a big year for Enbridge and a big year for tar sands producers and tar sands marketers in that they now have a clone of the Keystone XL that opened for business in 2014.

PERIES: Right. This contradiction in the Obama administration, I can see why the mainstream media wouldn’t be picking that up and covering it. But we’ve had a highly alert environmental movement. Did they not bring this to the attention of the media?

HORN: They did. So once it was published in the Federal Register, they did bring it to the attention of the media. They have been working on the Alberta Clipper expansion project. They weren’t working as hard on the Flanagan South or the Seaway Twin, or I should say they weren’t working this hard on media publicity, but they did file, environmental groups did file a lawsuit against that Flanagan South Nationwide Permit 12 permitting process, and they lost a lawsuit in which the judge in that case basically came out and said Enbridge’s corporate profits are more important than any of the environmental damages being cited by the environmental groups’ attorneys. So that’s why the pipeline should be permanent. What happened with this latest one, this Alberta Clipper expansion project–.

PERIES: Wait a minute. I’m sure that wasn’t the actual decision of a judge. Is that correct?

HORN: That was actually literally the decision of a judge, more or less. And I’m not quoting it word for word, but if you read that ruling, which was handed down late at the end of 2013, and then it was challenged, and then basically the judge again said the same thing–so [incompr.] that is what the judge said.

But going to–there’s a new legal decision that will be made soon in the United States district court in Minnesota over that expansion, what the environmental groups are calling an illegal scheme that was to do what they did over the summer. Enbridge got those letters from the State–those back-and-fourth letters from the State Department. And so that is in the United States District Court in Minnesota. That is a direct challenge to the United States State Department and John Kerry. And so we’ll see how that goes in the United States District Court in Minnesota. That’s a story to watch in 2015. And that case will actually determine whether or not this Alberta Rlipper expansion that crosses the United States-Canada border will be allowed to pump the tar sands oil through what I’ve been calling the Keystone XL clone.

PERIES: So, Steve, so that’s one issue, the pipelines. The next we’re going to take up in the next segment is fracking. So will you join us for that?

HORN: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I’d love to.

PERIES: Okay. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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