Obama's Tough Choice: Yes or No to Tar Sands Pipeline

Somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people showed up for the Forward on Climate rally in Washington DC yesterday, gathering from some 30 states.

And thousands of people also held rallies in 18 cities from 4000 people in San Francisco to 500 in Philadelphia.

In Washington, DC, they braved very cold weather and strong winds, while President Obama played golf in Florida with two oil and gas executives.

One of the speakers, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, compared the rally to Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, but, while "they were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence."

The New York Times points to the difficulty of the decision facing Obama on his approval of TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline.

The environmental community has drawn a line in the sand on this decision – if he approves the pipeline, all his rhetoric about addressing climate change will be just words.

There is no question that anyone serious about addressing climate change would reject the pipeline, because it will provide Canada with a direct market for expanding tar sands extraction – the dirtiest oil on earth.

Also, the huge expansion of natural gas fracking in the US has already reduced the need for imports.

Forward Climate rally

Today, the US imports 2.3 million barrels of tar sands oil every day from Canada, twice what we import from Saudi Arabia. Approving the pipeline would add another 700,000 barrels a day – two thirds of what we import from Venezuela.

If Obama approves the pipeline, he’ll frame it as a way to make the US energy independent, which indeed it would do. He can argue that it’s much better to get our oil from our closest ally, Canada, than from volatile countries like Venezuela and the Middle East.

Several unions favor approval because of the supposed jobs it would create (those numbers have been wildly exaggerated and of course, would be short term jobs), and then there’s Exxon, Chevron, Koch Industries and others that have major interests in tar sands.

Rift With Canada

But the biggest problem for Obama in rejecting the pipeline is the strain it would put on the US relationship with Canada – our closest trading partner.

Under ultra-conservative Prime Minister Harper, tar sands extraction has become vital to Canda’s economic growth. He’s thrown out the country’s most important environmental laws to clear the way for all out tar sands development. Government officials say US rejection of more tar sands would be "unneighborly" and could bring retaliation.

Canada and the US expect each other’s support on critical issues, Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the US, told the NY Times. While there might not be overt retaliation, it could affect trade decisions, such as whether Canada buys American  fighter jets.

Over the past decade, Canada has invested over $100 billion to strip mine its boreal forest and convert it to tar sands and all of that oil goes to the US. 

If the US says NO to the pipeline, Canada will look to China and elsewhere – it’s already pushing additional pipelines from Alberta to the west coast and to the US east coast through Maine. The west coast pipeline looks dead in the water because it runs through First Nation territory and furious opposition is growing to carrying tar sands through Maine.

"The shortage of pipeline capacity has produced localized supply gluts, forcing the price of Canadian crude well below American and international benchmarks. If the Keystone pipeline is not completed, energy experts say, weak prices will make the economics of future oil sands projects questionable."

Even if Obama shows the courage to reject the pipeline, Canada says their tar sands will arrive in the US anyway – by turning natural gas pipelines into those that carry tar sands, and by rail, truck and barge.

If TransCanada’s pipeline gets the go-ahead, tar sands production will double – from 3.2 million barrels a day after the pipeline is built to 6.2 million barrels a day by 2030, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

That would be the END GAME for humans’ ability to address climate change.

Significantly, opposition to tar sands now transcends the environmental community. Progressives, including labor and civil rights groups, have joined to fight corporate power.

Here’s the background on tar sands impact on climate change which is even worse when you add in the most recent research on petroleum coke.

Read the New York Times article: 

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