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Keystone XL and Its Corrosive Effect on Democracy

02/03/2015 06:05 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015
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If there were a Climate's Hall of Infamy, the 62 senators who voted to force the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) would have a place of honor there.

On January 29, 53 Republicans and nine Democrats voted in favor of forcing the construction of this monument to Big Oil's greed by overstepping the constitutional separation of powers and denying President Obama's legitimate jurisdiction over this project.

The president had already warned that he would veto any attempts to change the rules arbitrarily. Even so, the new Republican majority, with their heads firmly stuck in the sand, turned KXL --which would run along 1,200 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Texas ports-- into their number one priority.

Why spend so much political credit over a single public works boondoggle? Since 1999, these senators have received some $43 million in campaign contributions from the dirty energy industry, according to Oil Change International. The Koch Brothers alone donated $125 million to candidates in the past election cycle and stand to make $100 billion in profits if KXL is finally built, a 1,600-percent return on investment. It's no wonder they are now planning to spend close to $1 billion in the upcoming 2016 campaign.

The Kochs and the rest of the dirty energy industry believe they can buy our democracy. But what they can't buy is the facts. So here's what KXL would mean for the American people:

  • Each year, this project of tar-sand oil -- the most toxic, carbon-intensive crude on the planet -- would be responsible for the emissions of 181 million tons of climate-change gases, the equivalent to 50 coal-burning plants.
  • The crude would be transported to Texas refineries with one fundamental purpose: to be exported overseas. Its impact on gas prices in the U.S. would be insignificant.
  • The KXL would transport the planet's densest crude, requiring heating up the pipeline and pumping the oil at enormous pressure so it can flow along hundreds of miles. In its first year of operation, the KXL sections already built burst 33 times.
  • In 2010, the rupturing of a similar tar-sands pipeline spilled a million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River, at a cost of1 billion in cleaning efforts, which still continue.
  • The pipeline would run on top of North America's largest aquifer, which provides irrigation water for the country's breadbasket, the source of 30 percent of our food.

Senators, if creating jobs is what you are after, then take a hard look at the astonishing growth of the clean energy industry, a sector that employs thousands of Latinos.

In 2014, the solar industry created 50 percent more jobs than oil and gas extraction combined. These 31,000 jobs brought up the industry's total to 173,000, at a rate 20 times faster than the national average. In the last five years, the solar industry has increased its labor force by almost 90 percent. By next year, solar power will be as cheap or cheaper than coal, oil or gas in almost every single state.

And the wind industry last year which quadrupled is generating capacity by installing close to 4,900 megawatts, increasing its national total to 65 gigawatts. Senators, do you really wish to create jobs? Then indefinitely extend the wind industry's production tax credit (PTC) and end once and for all the obsolete dirty energy subsidies.

Until then, your candidacy to the Climate's Hall of Infamy is more than deserved.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on @javier_SC