On October 7 CSW attended a public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. While labor union representatives and environmentalists faced off in a tense and polarized State Department hearing on the pipeline permit, a rally outside excited hopes that Obama will deny approval, and called for action to circle the White House this November 6.
The hearing was held in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, the last in a series as part of the State Department’s process for considering a permit for the pipeline. In the tense and highly polarized atmosphere inside the hearing, large groups of people clad in neon t-shirts that read, “Keystone XL means jobs” or “LiUNA! Builds America” (representing Laborers International Union of North America) sat packed in rows separated from the sea of light blue t-shirts sporting “No tar sands.” Entire families, complete with small children, speckled the huge Reagan Building atrium, and as the hearing started there was no doubt about the fact that tempers were running high.
This fact was, in a way, pleasantly surprising considering that during other Keystone-related events we have covered, industry representatives have assured the audience that in their minds, the pipeline is a done deal. Whether or not this is true, it became clear at the hearing that Keystone XL isn’t going through without a fight.
Although from the back corner of the atrium there seemed to be a greater number of Keystone supporters, the speakers kicking off the hearing were largely against it. Sarah Hogdon, the first to speak, represented the Sierra Club, and argued that the sole purpose of the pipe was to increase TransCanada’s profits, and that dollar for dollar, the US would be better off investing in renewable energy technologies.
Things continued along that line, and the first supporter of the pipeline did not appear until five had spoken out against it. She was met with an uproar of cheers from the neon t-shirts that echoed impressively throughout the large room. She was followed by other supporters, some with reasonable arguments, and some with absolutely ludicrous claims, such as that Big Oil simply can’t afford to follow strict environmental regulations set up in North America and thus is forced to take oil from abroad where there aren’t as many restrictions.
Personal stories from those against the pipeline were compelling and told through a diverse array of individuals. A few representatives from Alberta’s First Nations groups pointed out the rare and aggressive cancers that have sprung up in their communities since the mining began, and Native American representatives pointed out that they wouldn’t give consent for their lands to be altered in such a fashion, as the pipeline would require.
Michael Klink, whistleblower working on the precursor pipeline, commented on the problems he had reported but that weren’t addressed; he was sure that these “glaring construction errors” resulted in the spills and environmental damage we’ve already seen from the precursor pipeline.
Farmers from Nebraska gave credible and concerned testimony for the pipeline’s impact on their well being and that of their lands. Randy Thompson said, “we feel like we’re being thrown under the bus for the interests of private oil companies.”
His sentiments, straight from the American Heartland, complemented the clout of the large environmental organizations, such that the issue took both local and national significance. Representatives of environmental groups pointed to the abysmal safety record of the precursor pipeline, the implications for greenhouse gas emissions and US national security, and TransCanada’s undue influence in the State Department’s environmental analysis of the project.
The atmosphere of the hearing was tense, and swells of cheers and boos accompanied almost every speaker. A grave indication of the pervasive bad feelings appeared in the testimony of one woman who took a moderate position on the issue. She did not insist that Keystone was an environmental disaster that should not be built; nor did she cite job creation and economic upturn. Rather, she pointed out that if the pipeline were to be built, vigorous safety standards would have to be adopted to prevent leaks and ensure the safety of workers. She cited the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, warning that insufficient regulatory capabilities could lead to a disaster of the same proportions. Yet none of the union workers would get excited about these reasonable words.
In contrast to the tense and bitter atmosphere of the hearing was the rally that formed outside on 14th Street. The early afternoon was sunny and warm, and the crowd was well armed with stickers, signs, a large earth, and some small windmills. Put together by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the speakers included representatives from the Indigenous Environmental Network, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford, General Steven Anderson, and former NHL hockey player Mike Richter.
Bill McKibben wrapped up the ceremonies with an appeal to participate in the action planned on November 6, a year before the next election. Demonstrators will circle the White House, carrying signs bearing the promises of Obama’s 2008 campaigns. “If I am elected President the rise of the oceans will begin to slow and the planet will begin to heal. We will end the tyranny of oil,” he had said.
Amidst cheers, McKibben suggested: “We need somehow to find that guy we thought we were electing President. We need to find where thery’re holding him and release him.”
You can sign up to participate in the November 6 action here.