Mayors ask State Department to get it right on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline review

Today 25 American mayors spoke out against the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. They are concerned that the upcoming second round of environmental reviews should be detailed and thorough. They rightly ask that this time the State Department take a look at how expansion of high-carbon tar sands imports can undermine municipal clean energy initiatives.

The mayors sent a letter expressing concern over the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Representing cities and towns across the United States, their letter notes that the controversial project might “undermine the good work being done in local communities across the country to fight climate change and reduce our dependence on oil.” In light of an expected new environmental review of the proposed pipeline, the Mayors ask “that the State Department issue a thorough and detailed supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that evaluates the need and impacts of this pipeline, including on local community efforts to build clean energy economies.”

This letter comes at a critical time in the environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It is important that the State Department listen to the voices of cities as they are on our clean energy frontlines in their efforts to reduce our demand for oil through smart growth, transit, environmentally sustainable biofuels, and electric and hybrid vehicles. These cities do not want to see increase of a high-carbon fuel like tar sands undermine their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their use of oil. And, when a community has the bad luck to be along a pipeline path, they bear the direct consequences of spills and explosions. So it is no surprise that cities of all sizes and from every part of the country are calling for a detailed and comprehensive environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that includes the impacts on local communities.

Mayors are some of the most inspiring people with whom to work. The mayors with whom we work believe in leading by example and taking on clean energy challenges in the day-to-day lives of their cities.

Back in 2008, a group of mayors lead by Kitty Piercy from Eugene, OR, Frank Cownie from Des Moines, IA, Jennifer Hosterman from Pleasanton, CA and others worked to get a US Conference of Mayors resolution passed on high-carbon fuels calling for measures to discourage the use of tar sands fuel. Last summer, Bellingham, WA passed a resolution to shift away from fossil fuels, particularly high-carbon fuels such as tar sands. Last fall, when ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability hosted a workshop looking at how expansion of high-carbon fuels such as tar sands might be undermining local efforts to reduce dependence on oil, Mayor Cownie was there with a rousing speech about how the best energy security was to get off oil. And earlier this month Mayor Parker from Houston sent a letter expressing her concerns about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and the additional burden of air pollution that refining tar sands oil in Houston will bring.

The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sends the wrong message to our communities and citizens who work hard to lessen our dependence on oil, using innovative conservation, efficiency and other measures. I am glad that mayors are speaking out and letting the State Department know that it can’t get by with a cursory environmental review this time.


Mayors signing the letter include Frank Cownie (Des Moines IA), Kitty Piercy (Eugene OR), Ralph Becker (Salt Lake City, UT), Pat Hays (North Little Rock AR), Jennifer Hosterman (Pleasanton CA), John DeStefano Jr. (New Haven, CT), Gayle McLaughlin (Richmond CA), Tom Bates (Berkeley CA), Bob Kiss (Burlington VT), John Dickert (Racine, WI), William V. “Bill” Bell (Durham, NC), Craig Lowe (Gainesville, FL), George Heartwell (Grand Rapids MI), Dave Cieslewicz (Madison, Wisconsin), John Marks (Tallahassee, FL), Patrick J. Morris (San Bernardino, CA), Chris Cabaldon (West Sacramento, CA), Roy Buol (Dubuque, IA), Ed Malloy (Fairfield, IA), Dana Williams (Park City, UT), Christopher A. Doherty (Scranton, PA), David Coss (Santa Fe, NM), Former Mayor Heidi Davison (Athens, GA), Former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan (Gainesville, FL), Former Mayor Greg Nickels (Seattle, WA).

Quotes from some of the signers follow:

Mayor Frank Cownie – Des Moines, Iowa

“Des Moines and many other communities in the Midwest, and around the country, are working hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  None of us want to see our vision of a lighter carbon footprints washed away by the tide of new emissions that this tar sands pipeline could cause. We want to protect our investments in energy efficiency and conservation which is why we are asking for a detailed environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. – New Haven, Connecticut

“Earlier this year, Connecticut joined 10 others in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region in a collaborative effort to develop regional lower-carbon alternatives to gasoline, and this kind of initiative takes us in the direction we need to go in these days, not the high carbon direction of using tar sands crude from the Keystone XL pipeline.  While we’re already making strong efforts to green our transportation sector in New Haven, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard will help us reduce our dependence on oil even further and hasten the transition to cleaner fuels.”

Former Mayor Greg Nickels – Seattle, Washington (and Past President, U.S. Conference of Mayors)

“This joint effort by mayors across the country to voice their concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and call upon our federal government to study these impacts carefully should surprise no one. Mayors care deeply about climate change, and are leading the way to reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality.  While Mayor of Seattle, I worked with my colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors to launch the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. Today 1049 mayors from across the USA have signed on, and they don’t want to see their labors erased by high carbon fuels like tar sands oil.”

Mayor John Dickert - Racine, Wisconsin

“Here in Racine, at the edge of the largest source of freshwater in the world – the Great Lakes – we’ve always had concerns about the oil pipeline that crosses Wisconsin north to south because it sometimes carries tar sands oil from Canada and the lack of information about what’s in the pipeline at any point in time is disturbing.  We need to know, in case a tar sands oil spill occurs like the one to the Kalamazoo River last year.  Residents in the vicinity of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline have the same right to a comprehensive environmental review that includes a detailed look at the safety issues of tar sands.”

Mayor Kitty Piercy, Eugene, Oregon

“A key principle of local efforts is to lead by example, and if we increase our imports of tar sands oil, then we deepen our dependence on dirty, high-carbon fuels and this sends the wrong message to cities and citizens as they work on innovative energy conservation and efficiency measures that – by the way – save them money. In Eugene and elsewhere, people are starting to catch on that saving fuel isn’t just good for the planet and air quality, it’s good for their wallets and that’s fundamental these days.” 

Mayor Jennifer Hosterman – Pleasanton, California

“Like many Californian communities, in Pleasanton we understand just how important it is to preserve and protect fresh water sources, and one of the very troubling aspects of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project is that it poses risks to so many important fresh water bodies in our country.  As Co-chair of the Mayor’s Water Council for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I must consider the big picture, and threats to the Great Lakes, some of our greatest rivers, and the Ogallala aquifer, which provides freshwater to over 2 million Americans, must be studied with utmost care.” 

Former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan –  Gainesville, Florida

"Throughout Florida, we watched as the BP oil spill devastated communities in the Gulf region. With an extremely large project like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline it is critical that there be a detailed analysis of safety, environmental and health impacts.  The first environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was given a failing grade by EPA and this is reason for grave concern, because when sub-standard projects are allowed to go forward, the results can be disastrous.”