265,000 Americans Tell Sec. Clinton: No New Dirty Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

In Wake of Spills and Shutdown, Keystone XL Opposition Swells

06-08-2011 // Tony Iallonardo

More than a quarter of a million Americans have sent a strong message to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the U.S. does not need and cannot risk a pipeline carrying dirty, toxic and corrosive tar sands crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Tar Sands development in Alberta, Canada

Monday was the deadline for public comment on the State Department’s second-round environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, which TransCanada Corp. wants to build from the tar sands of northern Alberta to refineries in Texas. At least 265,000 citizens submitted comments or signed petitions urging Clinton to deny a permit for the pipeline, which could contaminate Great Plains water supplies, increase air pollution in refinery communities and raise Midwest gas prices.

Their plea took on added urgency in the wake of the latest spill on the existing Keystone I pipeline, which would connect with the Keystone XL. Following 12 spills in Keystone’s first year, on Friday federal regulators briefly shut it down as an imminent threat to public health and safety. The pipeline has been allowed to restart under close scrutiny as regulators actively investigate Keystone's safety problems and evaluate additional safety precautions to place on the pipeline.

“How can the State Department even think of approving a new tar sands pipeline when the existing one is springing leaks on the average of once a month?” asked Susan Luebbe of Seward, Neb., whose ranch would be crossed by the pipeline. “Ranchers, farmers and millions of other people depend on clean water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies directly under the path of the Keystone XL.”

Listen to the full telepress conference here. LISTEN

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According to Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the State Department must now prepare and issue a final environmental safety review and then determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest. A final decision is expected by the end of the year. But Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, said State lacks the expertise to make that decision.

"The process is failing before our eyes,” said Symons. “Last week’s shutdown of the Keystone I by DOT regulators makes it brutally clear that Keystone XL could be built with outdated and inadequate safety regulations. The State Department should never have been put in charge of pipeline safety for dangerous new tar sludge pipelines and it’s alarming that the Obama administration has not fixed this broken process. America's next oil disaster is underway with this rush to accelerate the piping of corrosive and pressurized tar sludge."

Symons and Luebbe spoke Tuesday at a telepress conference where pipeline opponents noted not only the huge number of comments but the diversity of citizens and communities urging Clinton to deny the pipeline permit. On the last day of the comment period, they included:

• More than three dozen representatives of low-income communities of color in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, where crude oil from the Keystone XL would be refined. In a letter to Clinton, they noted that tar sands oil contain 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead – all health hazards – than conventional crude oil.

• Thirty-eight public interest groups from Northeastern states, who wrote that although the pipeline would not pass through their region, increased use of fuel from tar sands “is the exact opposite of the clean energy future Northeast taxpayers and businesses have invested in and support.

“A quarter million U.S. citizens have raised concerns about increasing imports of dirty tar sands oil and running a dangerous and unnecessary pipeline across our heartland,” said Liz-Barratt-Brown, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s time for the State Department to put their concerns ahead of the interests of the oil industry.”

Kate Colarulli, Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels Campaign Director, added that the State Department’s hasty and sloppy decisions on the Keystone XL pipeline will have dire consequences on the nation’s long-term health and energy security. “This dirty pipeline will spew enormous amounts of life-threatening carbon pollution into our air to rival the amount of pollution emitted from a dozen coal plants combined,” said Colarulli. “As scientist James Hansen put it, allowing more dirty tar sands into America’s energy mix will signal a ‘game over’ for the nation’s clean air and water.”

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