American Communities and the World's Climate Will Suffer from Tar Sands Pipeline

This week three NRDC staffers were arrested outside of the White House in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. They did this as private citizens—NRDC as an institution does not engage in civil disobedience. I admire how they have put personal actions behind deeply held views.

These three have worked on tar sands issues for years. They have seen firsthand how the tar sands fields are devouring millions of acres of pristine boreal forest in Alberta.

They have heard from the climate scientists who say using oil from tar sands generates three times as much carbon pollution as conventional oil. And they have visited with the farmers and ranchers who live along the proposed pipeline route and fear what the pipeline might do their land, water, and families.

Having been at the frontlines of the tar sands battle, they felt compelled to take the fight directly to the White House.

Environmental activist Bill McKibben has organized two weeks of sit-ins in Lafayette Park to urge President Obama to deny the Keystone XL a permit to proceed.

So far, more than 700 people had been arrested. Many of them live in the communities the pipeline would cut through as it makes it through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. They know a pipeline erupted in the Yellowstone River earlier this summer, and another one erupted last July, pouring 840,000 gallons of tar sands bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. They don’t want the same disaster to come to their towns.

I can understand their concern. I have seen the suffering fossil fuel accidents leave in their wake. From the Gulf fishermen who lost their livelihoods after the BP oil spill to the Pennsylvania homeowners who can no longer drink their water after fracking operations have contaminated their wells to the Tennessee residents who saw their land covered in coal ash after a dam burst, people around the nation are being asked to pay a too steep a price for America’s addiction to fossil fuels.

We must not let the Keystone XL pipeline bring this same burden to more Americans.

Especially when everywhere pays the price of an altered climate, whether it’s in the form of drought, floods, wildfires, or more powerful hurricanes.

Especially when we don’t need the oil it will provide. Much of it will be exported to Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Meanwhile, Americans will soon be driving more fuel efficient cars. In July, President Obama announced new clean car standards that will reduce oil use by 3.1 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 and cut vehicle carbon emissions in half.

Asking people to risk their homes and their families’ health in order to transport a dirty fuel that intensifies climate change and isn’t needed in our gas tanks is most definitely not in America’s interest. President Obama can prevent more fossil fuel disasters by saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline. 

About the Authors

Frances Beinecke

Former President

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