Republicans Want Tar Sands Pipeline Fast-Tracked; Canada Protects Heart of Boreal Forest

House Republicans are attempting to fast-track the controversial pipeline that would carry crude oil from tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada, across the US heartland and down to refineries in Texas.

The House Energy and Power Subcommittee approved a bill that requires President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone Pipeline by November 1. 

If he were to do so, he would have to over-rule demands for further review by the Environmental Protection Agency and ignore the protests of local communities that would be affected along the 1,700-mile pipeline route. 

House Republicans seem bent on upping the nation’s consumption of tar sands oil, presumably to reduce oil imports from the MidEast.

The strategy is blind to the environmental consequences of tar sands production, which has an environmental and emissions footprint that is several times larger than traditional crude oil. ,

The increased impact is due to the large amounts of energy, water and solvents needed to separate the crude oil from sand with which it is mixed in geological deposits.

Existing sections of the Keystone pipeline have suffered a series of spills in recent months, including one that shut down the town of Keystone itself for several days.

On its way to Texas, the pipeline would cross over the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow, vast aquifer that holds much of the water for the Great Plains. A spill there would be disastrous for the region’s main water source.

More than 100,000 people have written to the State Department in the past month alone opposing the pipeline. Environmental groups want the project scrapped entirely, while other groups are calling for a slow, cautious approach. 

Experts see construction of the pipeline as an incentive to produce even more tar sands gas. If the pipeline doesn’t get built, Alberta is expected to produce a glut of oil in the near term, and Congressional Republicans, as usual, are prepared to serve the oil industry over all other concerns.

Senator James Inhofe, a notorious climate change denier, reportedly is working on a bill to repeal a 2007 provision that restricts the federal government’s use of high-carbon fuels, such as those produced from the Alberta tar sands.

"The fossil fuel industry now has the ability to write and pass legislation that defies common sense. With tar sands pipelines bursting frequently in the US, the last thing that should be moving is legislation that would enable future oil disasters in the midwest," says Tony Iallonardo, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation.

Manitoba Protects Boreal Forest

There is also some good news concerning Canada.

The provincial government of Manitoba announced it is granting permanent legal protection to nearly two million acres of the endangered Heart of the Boreal Forest – an area the size of Yellowstone National Park – in accordance with the wishes of the indigenous community that is the guardian of this land.

For over seven years, environmental groups have been calling on Manitoba to honor the right of the Poplar River First Nation to manage its own traditional lands in the Boreal Forest and to keep out unwanted industrialization, transmission lines, forestry and road building.

The protected area will be managed for its wilderness values – safeguarding vital populations of woodland caribou, wolves and millions of migratory songbirds – while ensuring First Nations can use these dense woods for sustainable community development.

The government’s move is a big first step towards the creation of a World Heritage Site that would protect more than 10 million acres of Manitoba’s important Boreal Forest and stave off its industrialization and destruction.

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