In the July 22 edition of the Jewish World, I wrote an editorial with an environmental theme. The impetus was the ExxonMobil pipeline rupture that despoiled a stretch of the Yellowstone River in Montana.
The pipeline spill was nasty enough; but I mentioned that a far greater menace was the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have 10 times the capacity of the ExxonMobil pipe that burst. The $7 billion project, which is awaiting approval from President Obama, would bring crude oil all the way from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico — 1,700 miles through the American West. Environmentalists have ramped up protests against extending the pipeline; Washington, D.C., police arrested more than 1,200 demonstrators at the White House fence in September. On Sunday, around 10,000 anti-Keystone XL protesters encircled the presidential residence.
Jewish groups — including Hazon, the umbrella Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs — have stressed the need to protect the environment, take steps to mitigate global warming and reduce our dependence on oil. I don’t know that there have been specific actions taken by any of these groups in opposition to the Keystone XL project; but this new pipeline out of the tar sands is certainly a bad development for the environment. And for those who drink water, eat food and breathe air, maintaining the health of our physical environment is an overarching issue.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has stated that the Alberta tar sands “are already wreaking havoc on both people and wildlife in the region. For aboriginal peoples [Indians], the mining reduces local water supplies and increases exposure to toxic substances…. In addition to the extraction impacts, the proposed pipeline” would threaten “to contaminate freshwater supplies in America’s agricultural heartland and increase refinery emissions in already-polluted communities of the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
The NRDC has warned: “At a time when we must embrace a clean energy future, tar sands take us far in the wrong direction. The United States should instead implement a comprehensive oil savings plan and reduce oil consumption by increasing fuel efficiency standards, hybrid cars, renewable energy, environmentally sustainable biofuels, and smart growth to meet our transportation needs.”
COEJL mentions, vis-Ã -vis the threat from global climate change: “Our tradition teaches that Adam and Eve were asked ‘to till and to tend’ the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). We believe humans remain a partner in Creation. We fulfill this mandate by practicing ‘Tikkun Olam,’ literally, repairing the world. Climate change threatens to irreparably alter the Earth. Carbon dioxide concentrations are higher than they have been in more than half-a-million years. Since the advent of the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide levels have risen 30 percent. At the same time, global temperature has increased by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century. These changes are expected to result in more forest fires, severe floods, soil erosion, droughts, sea-level rise, an increased frequency of severe storms, and pest and pathogen outbreaks. The Jewish community supports aggressive climate change legislation to reduce these impacts. Such legislation should aim to reduce carbon concentrations by 80 percent by 2050, with significant interim reductions.”
Regarding approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama is under great pressure from the oil industry — and from trade unionists eager for pipeline construction jobs. Calgary-based TransCanada is the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Canadian company reportedly has been bullying landowners in the West, threatening to have their land taken by eminent domain unless they sell access rights. However, the State Department has not approved the Keystone XL project, so TransCanada is guilty of some chutzpa, and worse, in this regard.
The latest wrinkle in the Keystone XL saga this week is that the State Department has ordered its inspector general to review the Obama administration’s handling of the pipeline approval process, in the face of complaints that special interests have exerted improper influence.
The New York Times reported that Harold W. Geisel, the senior official in the inspector general’s office, “told top agency officials in a memorandum dated Friday that he would open the review ‘to determine to what extent the department and all other parties involved complied with federal laws and regulations’ relating to the pipeline permit process.”
In late October, 14 members of Congress sent a letter to Geisel, asking him to look into the relationship between TransCanada and Houston-based Cardno Entrix, which conducted the review of the pipeline project.
President Obama has not set a deadline for making a decision; and, as many have pointed out, this is his decision to make. Going into the 2012 elections, the president likely is weighing the political consequences of any decision he makes about the Keystone XL pipeline. And the fate of the natural world, which sustains all of us, outweighs all other factors.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 11.11.11)