Protests demand Obama use veto power to halt proposed expansion of Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico

Story Transcript

DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: President Barack Obama will soon be faced with a major decision that will reveal his dedication to environmental issues as a Tar Sands Oil Pipeline project makes its way to his desk for approval. Five hundred and twenty-two people have been arrested so far as hundreds of protestors engage in a 2 week-long action in front of the White House in order to alert the president to what they say is a critical moment in the battle to combat global climate change and our reliance upon non-renewable energy. The Keystone XL project seeks to significantly extend an oil pipeline constructed last year and would facilitate the transport of large quantities of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas coast. Many activists are concerned not only about the short-term effects, but also the potential long-term environmental and social impacts of the controversial project.

MATT LEONARD, TAR SANDS ACTION ORGANIZER: The tar sands are literally the dirtiest form of oil on the earth, theyâ€re 80 percent more carbon intensive than any other type of oil, specifically the development of the tar sands oil in Alberta has been unbelievable environmental and economic disaster for their country. I think, we were concerned about the pipeline in particular because itâ€s going to expand the infrastructure for those tar sands, and ensure that for several
decades they will keep drilling that oil, also the pipeline itself will run through some
of the most pristine farmland in US, as well as go impacting Gulf Coast residents who are already battered by huge environmental concerns in existing refineries, pipeline spills, and other oil related disasters like the BP oil spil. We firmly believe
here that the ethical choice is to wean ourselves off our dependence of fossil fuels,
to start looking towards renewable energy and building the infrastructure to switch
our economy to that clean renewable energy rather than being locked in the same old destructive the path of dirty oil.

DOUGHERTY: The tar sands found in Canada and some other parts of the world are comprised of a viscous mixture of water, sand and petroleum that is heavier and more corrosive than conventional sources of oil. The refinery process by which tar sands are converted into liquid oil is energy intensive and generates 2 to 4 times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil refinery techniques. The Keystone XL pipeline, funded by the Canadian company TransCanada, would pass through dozens of streams and rivers as well as the enormous Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water for 1/3rd of the crops produced in the US as well as drinking water for millions of people. The existing Keystone pipeline that went into production in the summer of 2010 has already experienced a dozen leaks, raising safety concerns over the XL extension among scientists like Jessie Hollister, who was arrested in front of the White House as part of the ongoing tar sands demonstrations.

JESSIE HOLLISTER, SCIENTIST: Scientists and environmental groups have come out against this pipeline because thereâ€s pretty clear evidence that construction of the pipeline across US wonâ€t be safe so certainly for communities along the pipeline will be immediately impacted, also be going through some delicate eco systems which would be negatively impacted.

DOUGHERTY : In Alberta, Canada, development of the tar sands has already taken its toll on a number of communities experiencing contaminated water supplies and adverse health effects. First Nations peoples have been hit particularly hard by the developments, which have become a focal point in a broader struggle for indigenous rights and autonomy. Heather Milton-Lightening of the Indigenous Environmental Network traveled to the White House lawn from Canada to draw attention to the multitude of environmental and social issues confronting indigenous peoples with projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

HEATHER MILTON-LIGHTENING, ORGANIZER, INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK: There are folks impacted by it. You know, the people are dying from cancer,the water is poisoned, their way of life is dying, people are going to go extinct from this kind of development, at this point
this is happening day to day in these communities and we want folks to come and
just really talk about that, there are legally binding instruments called treaties in Canada and in the US side that we signed as native nation people as nations that we agreed to share this land with the US and Canada, with its citizens and I think whatâ€s really problematic is that thereâ€s gross violations of human rights and violation of the treaty rights because of this development, every human deserves clean drinking water, clean air, to have the right to livelihood and our treaties protect those rights, they protect the right to hunt and fish, what the tar sands is doing is preventing people from having clean air and clean water theyâ€re getting sick, weâ€re seeing a lot of people even further downstream theyâ€re getting impacted by this, these are people who are not doing the development, theyâ€re communities that have been there since time immemorial, those treaties were supposed to protect our rights to live as we always have and thatâ€s whatâ€s problematic, these are the issues that weâ€re trying to push and hold these governments accountable to and not only the governments but the corporations themselves, we have the right to say no to development.

DOUGHERTY: On Friday, August 26, the US State Department released its final
Environmental Impact Statement declaring that the pipeline would have “no
significant impact” on area resources. A previous State Department report on the
Keystone XL pipeline received a failing grade by the Environmental Protection
Agency, which raised serious environmental and legal concerns surrounding the
project. Jurisdiction for the project lies with the State Department because the
projected route crosses international borders, though they are required to consult
with other agencies like the EPA. Companies in both Canada and the US have
engaged in aggressive lobbying efforts promoting the tar sands development, which one ad campaign is portraying as “ethical oil.”

HOLLISTER: Clearly there is a very powerful interest that will benefit directly from
the construction of this pipeline, in larger sense petroleum production and use and
consumption is one of the most profitable industries that the world has ever known,
oil companies make more profits than any company in the history of civilization, so
with regard to the larger campaign of misinformation itâ€s easy to understand why
extremely influential special interests with lots and lots of money to pour into public
relations campaigns would have a lot of power to spread misinformation in the
interest of continuing their profits.

DOUGHERTY: It remains to be seen whether or not President Obama will approve the Keystone XL project, which the government is expected to act upon by the end of the year. On this particular issue, Obama has the power to veto the project without consulting Congress. Demonstrators have vowed to continue risking arrest in front of the White House through Labor Day as people try to sway the president on what could be his largest environmental decision yet. This is David Dougherty with the The Real News Network.

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