When Barack Obama was elected president, many environmentalists thought “their guy” was in the White House. Three years into his presidency though, many are so disappointed in his policies, that they’ve taken to getting arrested just to get his attention.
In fact, 1,253 were arrested last month for “blocking the road to the White House” including environmentalist Bill McKibben and actress Daryl Hannah. Some kept vigil in front of the White House for two weeks (check out this video.) According to some, this protest was the biggest civil disobedience action since 1977 and the most sustained of efforts since those of the civil rights movement.
So what’s all this about?
A motherload of oil is sitting in “Tar Sands” in Canada, and there’s a proposal to build a $13 billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline to get that oil to the U.S. Because it crosses an international border, the President can decide whether or not to approve it, without having to go before Congress.
The pipeline would stretch over 1,700 miles through many US states (including my home state of South Dakota) and is more than twice the length of the Trans-Alaska system.
Critics believe the way the oil is extracted from Alberta’s tar sands is detrimental to the environment and will result in more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of final product versus the production of conventional oil. They also say it poses a threat to the Northern High Plains Aquifer system, which supplies 30 percent of water used in the U.S. for agriculture and irrigation. The nation’s top environmental organizations – who sometimes can’t agree on anything – are unified against the pipeline.
However, supporters of the pipeline and a government-issued report say if it’s not built, that oil would be transported to refineries by tankers and barges if not the Keystone XL.
The final decision is set to be made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the President by the end of the year, and the last State Department hearing will be in early October–so expect more “civil disobedience” in Phase Two, if you will. The fight is far from over.
But all indications are the pipeline will get approved. The State Department released its final environmental assessment earlier this month. The report found there would be no significant impact to the vast majority of resources along the corridor. According to the State Department’s analysis, the likelihood of potential spills is limited.
Environmentalists are not convinced. They point to the fact that The TransCanada pipeline currently running through the Upper Midwest has already experienced 14 spills since opening operations just over a year ago, including a spill in North Dakota of 21,000 gallons.
Obviously there are will be a lot of factors ultimately involved in the Obama Administration’s decision whether to support this project or not. How much would this pipeline help? How much will this decision affect his re-election campaign? If he doesn’t support it, does he risk being painted as anti-jobs and hurting the economy? If he does, will he further erode support among his “base”? Only time will tell but unfortunately, time is running out.