Environmental Entrepreneurs: Tar sands will undermine our clean energy economy

Today, over 250 Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) members sent a letter to Secretary Clinton raising the concern that tar sands oil does not belong in a clean energy economy. The State Department is on the brink of approving the trans-boundary Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This project would continue America’s dependence on risky forms of oil exactly at a time when we should be focused on clean energy investments. With this letter, the independent business voice for the environment is saying loud and clear: tar sands oil will undermine the U.S. commitment to a clean energy economy.

Partnering with the Natural Resources Defense Council, E2 is a national community of individual business leaders who advocate for policies that make good business sense and good environmental sense. Started in 2000, E2 has over 850 members in over 27 states. These voices questioning tar sands include entrepreneurs, investors and professionals who collectively manage over $82 billion of venture capital and private equity.

The disaster in the Gulf is a tragic signal that the time of easy to access to cheap oil is over. The oil industry is going after sources of oil that are harder to access and in part because they are more expensive to develop, the industry is cutting corners. We see this in the Gulf and we see it with the development of tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should not be built. It is un-necessary, expensive, and risky.

Going after oil in ever riskier places raises the question of when it is the right time to stop relying on fossil fuels and start a serious investment in the clean energy economy. I would argue that the time is now. We can build America as a leader in clean energy technology with long-term jobs and the energy that we need to move around.  However, if we follow the path of the oil industry, do we wait until the next Gulf oil spill? Do we wait until the drinking water supply in America’s heartland is polluted by a pipeline leak? Do we wait until the slow moving oil spill from the tar sands reaches the Arctic Ocean? Do we wait until gas reaches $4, $6 or $10 a gallon? What environmental, social and economic cost are we willing to bear before we say enough to oil companies and reach for the innovative energy solutions of which we are capable as a country?

The time has come to stop relying on offshore oil, tar sands, oil shale and other fossil fuels that in the past were considered too difficult and dangerous to access. Yet, the State Department has been relying on the oil industry’s claims that they need this pipeline and has been continuing with the permitting of this major tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf without examining the extent to which increasing our dependence on tar sands oil will hurt our investment in a clean energy economy.  The proposed pipeline would encourage expansion of tar sands oil production in Alberta and its accompanying high greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating much of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions gained from U.S. the fuel efficiency standards and renewable fuel standard. The project itself presents serious risks to health, livelihoods, and environment if it is granted requested safety waivers that would allow a high pressure pipeline filled with corrosive tar sands oil to cross the drinking water supply for eight states from Nebraska to Texas using thinner steel than normally required by Department of Transportation safety standards. In the Gulf, the government relied on BP’s assertion that they had the technology to prevent a spill. But BP’s interest was different from ours. It is the same in the case of this pipeline. The State Department should not rely on industry’s assertion that this pipeline will be safe – not when industry is asking for safety waivers that might save industry millions in the short-term, but could cost taxpayers and investors millions in the long-term.

The letter from business leaders across the country urges Secretary Clinton to suspend the permitting process for the Keystone XL pipeline until the State Department is able to more fully assess the social, environmental and economic impacts of the project in terms of national interest.  The State Department is required not only to assess the environmental impacts, but also the national interest in the pipeline. Through the draft environmental impact statement, the State Department is assessing the on-the-ground environmental impacts in the narrowest sense without adequate economic analysis of the need for a pipeline that will drive expansion of tar sands oil extraction in Canada and use in the United States.  The comment period on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline ends on June 16, having given the public only 60 days for review. But what is really needed is that the State Department go back to the drawing board. This is not just a case of giving the public adequate time to review the environmental impact statement. It is a case where the environmental impact statement is so wholly inadequate that a number of additional studies are needed if we are to truly be able to assess the environmental and social impacts of this tar sands pipeline and the economic impacts that it will have on America’s path to a clean energy future. And when all the information is in and assessed, the verdict will be clear: America does not need the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We have less risky clean energy alternatives that are good for long-term economic development.