Why I Signed A Letter Against the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Way back in 1996, I was honored to receive the Heinz Award  and now I’m joining other winners of that prize and the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize as signatories to a letter calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The 20 of us are concerned that much of the work we have been honored for with these prizes will be undone by the potential damage wrought by the massive quantities of dangerous and carbon-intensive tar sands oil that would be transported by the project—and more so by the increased tar sands extraction that the pipeline unlocks by connecting to a robust international oil transportation system that will send tar sands to new markets around the globe.

The letter stresses that we have solutions and options to fight climate change, but projects like Keystone XL offer a blueprint for exactly the sort of investment we should not be making at this time.

NRDC has been engaged in the fight against Keystone XL from Day 1. A decision on the project will come this year, so it is essential for the administration to hear our voice of concern on the issue. You can find more information on Keystone XL on our Web site. I urge you to speak out. I am pleased to do so in the company of such an accomplished group---here is the letter:


May 8, 2013

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
 U.S. Department of State 
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As recipients of Heinz Awards for our work in environment, energy, and public policy, and the Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental activism, we write to you with an urgent appeal to affirm America's commitment to climate solutions by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 
We are deeply honored and humbled to have been recognized for our achievements. But we are acutely aware that despite your best efforts and ours, the climate crisis is now upon us. After a year of unprecedented weather extremes and disruption, this is no longer only about impacts in the future. It's about social, economic, environmental, and moral consequences, now.

We do not lack for viable solutions. Public and private leaders in America are demonstrating that energy efficiency, clean energy, transportation choices, and a range of other strategies are practical and economic. We are using them to build healthier communities and stronger local economies. We can say this with confidence: sustainable, broadly-shared economic opportunity is possible as we make the necessary transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and efficient energy systems.

But we cannot make the transition overnight. It will take many decades of patient commitment and investment to complete it. And while "winning" a safe climate future is a long game, we can lose it very quickly — within President Obama's second term. Continued investment in capital-intensive, long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure like Keystone XL will "lock in" emission trajectories that make catastrophic climate disruption inevitable. This is the hard bottom line of the International Energy Agency's 2012 World Energy Outlook, which starkly warned that without an immediate shift in energy infrastructure investment, humanity would "lose forever" the chance to avert climate catastrophe.

Critics of the effort to stop the pipeline suggest that this is not "the right way" to deal with climate. It is certainly not sufficient, and it would arguably be unnecessary if we had a responsible national and global climate policies. You fought for such policy as a Senator, and we desperately need one. But stopping the pipeline is necessary to ensure that the problem remains solvable — that we don't become irrevocably committed to emission trajectories that guarantee failure before we mobilize for success.

There is a strain of fatalism among some opinion leaders regarding Keystone (characteristic of prevailing attitudes toward climate generally): "Canada will develop the tar sands no matter what we do." "We'll get the oil from somewhere, so it might as well be North America." "They'll just find another route." These objections are neither analytically defensible nor morally responsible. We can't do everything to address climate disruption, but as the world's biggest economy and the largest historic emitter, we can and should do a great deal. As a nation with unparalleled capacities for innovation and entrepreneurship, we can do even more. Facilitating accelerated investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is flatly inconsistent with this responsibility, and with the diplomatic effort to build our standing as an international leader and facilitator of global cooperation to tackle the climate challenge.

Keystone XL is a big, literal, conspicuous example of exactly what we must not do if we are genuinely committed to climate solutions. It is a fundamental element — a "keystone" if you will — of the industry's plan to expand production of this carbon-intensive fuel from 2 million barrels per day to 6 million bpd by 2030. And as significant as its direct consequences are, Keystone XL is much more than a pipeline. It is a test of whether we will indeed, as the President said in his inaugural address, "respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

The human consequences of unchecked climate disruption are almost unimaginably grave. We cannot continue to ignore — or, worse, aggravate — these consequences by considering decisions like Keystone outside of this moral context. Approving the permit would amount to affirming moral evasion, at exactly the moment that you and the President have argued so passionately for moral engagement.

We believe in the power and promise of climate solutions. We know they work; we know they are economically viable; and we know we can implement them. We believe it's time to look our kids and grandkids — the prospective victims of still-preventable climate disasters — in the eye and say, "We will do what must be done to protect you. We will make this better."

But they won't believe us until we stop making it worse. That's why we urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

With hope and determination to build a healthy future, and the deepest respect for your leadership,


KC Golden
Policy Director
Climate Solutions
2012 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Lois Gibbs
Executive Director
Center for Health, Environment & Justice
1990 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

John Luther Adams
2011 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Jane Akre
Independent News Group, LLC
2001 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

P. Dee Boersma, Ph.D
Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science
University of Washington, Department of Biology
2009 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Ralph Cavanagh
Energy Program Co-Director
Natural Resources Defense Council
1996 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Terrence J. Collins, PhD, Hon FRSNZ
Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry
Director, Institute for Green Science
Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Chemistry
2010 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Anne H. Ehrlich
Senior Research Scientist
Stanford University, Department of Biology
1995 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Paul R. Ehrlich
Bing Professor of Population Studies
Stanford University, Department of Biology
1995 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Thomas FitzGerald
Kentucky Resources Council, Inc.
2008 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Jerry F. Franklin 
University of Washington, College of Forest Resources
2005 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Maria Gunnoe
Community Organizer 
2009 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner 
2012 Wallenberg Medal Winner

James Hansen
Columbia University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
2001 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Richard J Jackson, MD, MPH, Hon. AIA
Former Director, CDC National Center for Environmental Health
Professor & Chair, Environmental Health Science
UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
2012 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Hilton Kelley
Executive Director & Founder
Community In-power and Development Association, Inc.
NPA Regional Health Equity Council: Chairman R-6
National Partnership for Action (NPA) to End Health Disparities Member
National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Member 2009-2011
2011 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

Joanie Kleypas
Marine Scientist
2011 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Elizabeth Kolbert
2010 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Peggy M. Shepard
Executive Director
WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Inc.
2004 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Jack Spengler
Akira Yamaguchi Professor on Environmental Health and Human Habitation 
Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment 
Harvard University, School of Public Health
2012 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

George M. Woodwell
Woods Hole Research Center
1997 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

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