President Obama's got a big decision on his plate. Sometime between now and Feb. 21, he has to decide whether the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline -- which would deliver dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas -- is in the "national interest."
That phrase is at the heart of his decision because it's an international project that's primarily under the purview of the State Department. So whether the pipeline "serves the national interest" is the threshold for deciding whether it can move ahead.
The decision should be a no-brainer. Here are five reasons why Keystone XL is not in the national interest:
1. It will dramatically deepen our addiction to climate-killing fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions from tar-sands development are two to three times higher than those from conventional oil and gas operations. That's exactly the wrong direction for reversing global warming. Scientists tell us we must reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million or less. Today, it's 391 ppm -- and Keystone XL would certainly drive that up and worsen the devastating effects of global warming -- from rising oceans to melting glaciers to extreme and dangerous weather events -- that we're already seeing around the world.
2. It will spill. The State Department's review of the project clearly says Keystone XL will spill oil. Not may, but will. It could be as often as the existing Keystone pipeline, which has already leaked 14 times since it began operating in June 2010, including one leak that dumped 21,000 gallons of tar-sands crude. Other pipelines have spilled too recently, including one in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that leaked 800,000 gallons and another in the Yellowstone River in 2011 that dumped more than 40,000 gallons. Keystone XL would carry up to 35 million gallons of oil every day -- so any leak has the potential to be massive.
3. It will threaten vast pristine landscapes, rivers and wildlife. Running between Alberta, Canada and the Gulf Coast of Texas, Keystone XL will cross nearly 1,750 water bodies, like rivers and steams, and risk contaminating the Ogalla Aquifer (the drinking water source for millions of people). It would also cut through the heart of prime wildlife habitat, including homes for at least 20 imperiled species, including the whooping crane, pallid sturgeon, woodland caribou, American burying beetle, interior least tern and western prairie fringed orchid.
4. It will expand the destruction of Canada's boreal forests. Tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil on Earth. Producing oil from sand has terrible impacts on the environment, including the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of boreal forest in Alberta, pollution of hundreds of millions of gallons of water from the Athabasca River -- each barrel of oil from tar sands requires three barrels of water to produce.
5. It won't be a major job producer. The State Department estimates that Keystone XL will result in only 20 permanent, operational jobs in the U.S and 2,500 to 4,650 temporary jobs. Our economy needs long-term sustainable jobs that a clean energy economy would provide. And by the way, after Keystone XL oil makes it to Texas, much of it will be exported beyond U.S. borders without paying U.S. taxes. It also won't increase our net oil imports. According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. will import the same amount of crude from Canada through 2030 regardless of whether Keystone XL is built.
I have a hard time believing it's in our "national interest" to court oil spills, worsen climate change and jeopardize rivers, streams, drinking water, people and wildlife. Here's hoping President Obama feels the same -- and has the courage to the do the right thing.
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