75,000 Commit to Civil Disobedience if Obama Cuts Deal on KXL

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Common Dreams

75,000 Commit to Civil Disobedience if Obama Cuts Deal on KXL

Leading green groups warn president against deal-making with Canadians on tar sands pipeline

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Amid rumors that the Obama administration might try to cut an emissions deal with Canada in order to justify approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, leaders from 25 US environmental groups—backed by millions of members and at least 75,000 individuals willing to engage incivil disobedience—warned the president on Tuesday that such a deal would be considered nothing less than a bitter betrayal.

In a tersely-worded letter signed by 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, Sierra Club, and twenty other well-known green groups, the signers welcomed the idea of Canada finding new ways to reduce its growing rate of carbon pollution, but were direct in saying that making promises of future reductions the basis of a deal on Keystone would ignite a serious backlash.

"On behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide," reads the letter, "we oppose any deal-making in return for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Our rationale is simple. Building Keystone XL will expand production in the tar sands, and that reality is not compatible with serious efforts to battle climate change."

In an interview with the Washington Post, president of the League of Conservation Voters Gene Karpinski—whose group is not often associated with the more activist-oriented groups like Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network—said that his organization's members are among the tens of thousands who have expressed their willingness to engage in civil disobedience if Obama approves the pipeline.

"The intensity out there has not diminished one bit," he said. "If anything, the willingness of people to go to jail over this is expanding."

Karpinski's reference is to an online pledge of resistance hosted by Credo Action, and supported by many of the groups who signed Tuesday's letter, that asks people who are willing to pledge to "engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline." As of Tuesday, 75,709 people had signed the pledge.

In a separate letter sent to the White House by the Sierra Club on Tuesday, the group's president Michael Brune directly challenged the idea that the emissions reduction plan reportedly offered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper could offset the explosion of carbon pollution that would follow if tar sands operations were allowed to expand.

In the letter, Brune begins by applauding Obama for recently announced EPA rules designed to limit future pollution from yet-to-be built coal- and gas-fired plants, but expressed his deep concern that any progress made on this front would be "undermined by a backdoor bilateral agreement on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would commit us to transporting the dirtiest of fossil fuels for decades to come."

Brune continued:

Several weeks ago, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly sent you a letter declaring his willingness to take any climate actions necessary to get a presidential approval of Keystone XL, the $7-billion pipeline that would pump Alberta tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. While this may seem like a generous offer, Canada simply cannot mitigate the carbon pollution from the pipeline; those emissions would simply be too big. Keystone XL would be directly responsible for the equivalent annual emissions of 51 coal-fired power plants or 37.7 million cars. As a point of comparison, Canada has about 26 million cars on the road.

Along with the pipeline’s direct emissions, the pipeline would be responsible for decades of future emissions from tar sands. The Pembina Institute estimates that Keystone XL would increase tar sands development by 36 percent. The State Department estimates that tar sands oil could be 22 percent more carbon intensive than conventional crude used in the United States. And when the lost carbon sequestration potential of Canada’s 1.2 billion acre boreal forest is also taken into consideration, the climate implications of the pipeline become staggering. The best way to “mitigate” tar sands development is to keep tar sands in the ground.

Promises by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to reduce the emissions from Canada’s tar sands should be judged against its failure to live up to its climate commitments to date. The government of Canada has consistently missed its own targets to regulate its oil and gas sector and reduce national emissions, and has a history of weakening environmental regulations at the request of the pipeline industry.

Both of Tuesday's letters to President Obama come on the heals of a nationwide day of action organized by 350.org on Saturday in which hundreds of local groups told the White House and State Department that they were "drawing the line" against Keystone XL, dirty tar sands, and other extreme forms of fossil fuel energy.

The full letter (pdf), including the twenty-five listed signatories, follows:

September 24, 2013
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

President Obama:

We are pleased to hear reports that Canadian officials may be considering new policies to mitigate global warming pollution from the oil and gas sectors. Increased regulation of these sectors is long overdue in both Canada and the U.S. in order to protect our communities and climate.

However, on behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide, we oppose any deal-making in return for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Our rationale is simple. Building Keystone XL will expand production in the tar sands, and that reality is not compatible with serious efforts to battle climate change.

While the tar sands industry makes claims of reducing the intensity of their emissions profile, in fact the absolute carbon pollution from the tar sands is rapidly increasing.

The Harper government previously promised to take action to cut pollution across industry, but never followed through with its 2008 plan. Carbon pollution from the tar sands is now projected to be twice as high in 2020 as envisioned under that plan.

Simple arithmetic shows that the only way to reduce emissions from the tar sands is to cap expansion where it is now and reduce production over the coming years.

That means rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a project that would enable the expansion of tar sands production. The tar sands pipeline and the carbon emissions it would generate are not in the national interest.

After yet another year of record temperatures, terrible drought, dangerous wildfires and worsening storms, the solution must be to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, not to double down on our dependence on the highest carbon fuels.

Signed,
Anna Galland, Executive Director, MoveOn.org Civic Action
Carroll Muffett, President & CEO, Center for International Environmental Law
Catherine Thomasson, MD, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League
Dan Apfel, Executive Director, Responsible Endowments Coalition
Daniel Souweine, Director, CEL Climate Lab
Drew Hudson, Executive Director, Environmental Action
Erich Pica, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth US
Frances Beinecke, President, Natural Resources Defense Council
Gene Karpinski, President, League of Conservation Voters
Jane Kleeb, Executive Director, Bold Nebraska
Joe Uehlein, Executive Director, Labor Network for Sustainability
John Sellers, Executive Director, The Other 98%
Kieran Suckling, Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Executive Director, Hip Hop Caucus
Lindsey Allen, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network
Maura Cowley, Executive Director, Energy Action Coalition
May Boeve, Executive Director, 350.org
Michael Hall Kieschnick, CEO CREDO
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Executive Director, Green For All
Phil Radford, Executive Director, Greenpeace
Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Sarah Shanley Hope, Executive Director, Alliance for Climate Education
Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director, Oil Change International
Tom B.K. Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network

And the separate letter from Sierra Club president Michael Brune:

September 24, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I applaud your commitment to fighting climate change. Your administration’s new carbon pollution limits for power plants are a giant step in the right direction and demonstrate that America is ready to move forward on climate. In a year of record-breaking wildfires, floods, and other symptoms of a disrupted climate, your leadership on climate change is exactly what our country needs.

I am concerned that this progress may be undermined by a backdoor bilateral agreement on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would commit us to transporting the dirtiest of fossil fuels for decades to come. Several weeks ago, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly sent you a letter declaring his willingness to take any climate actions necessary to get a presidential approval of Keystone XL, the $7-billion pipeline that would pump Alberta tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. While this may seem like a generous offer, Canada simply cannot mitigate the carbon pollution from the pipeline; those emissions would simply be too big. Keystone XL would be directly responsible for the equivalent annual emissions of 51 coal-fired power plants or 37.7 million cars. As a point of comparison, Canada has about 26 million cars on the road.

Along with the pipeline’s direct emissions, the pipeline would be responsible for decades of future emissions from tar sands. The Pembina Institute estimates that Keystone XL would increase tar sands development by 36 percent. The State Department estimates that tar sands oil could be 22 percent more carbon intensive than conventional crude used in the United States. And when the lost carbon sequestration potential of Canada’s 1.2 billion acre boreal forest is also taken into consideration, the climate implications of the pipeline become staggering. The best way to “mitigate” tar sands development is to keep tar sands in the ground.

Promises by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to reduce the emissions from Canada’s tar sands should be judged against its failure to live up to its climate commitments to date. The government of Canada has consistently missed its own targets to regulate its oil and gas sector and reduce national emissions, and has a history of weakening environmental regulations at the request of the pipeline industry. The Canadian government eliminated the budget for its National Roundtable on Energy and the Environment after it advocated a carbon tax. In addition, the government of Canada is silencing its scientists, as highlighted in last weekend’s New York Times when the paper noted, “There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years… But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.” Even if mitigating carbon pollution from the tar sands pipeline were possible, the Harper administration has shown no signs that it would be willing to do it.

The fact is, tar sands are Canada’s fastest-growing source of carbon pollution. In 2011, the Canadian government’s own peer-reviewed reports forecasted that emissions from tar sands would be triple 2005 levels by 2030. The Canadian government’s promises to offset tar sands carbon pollution are nothing more than a rubber check written against an empty account. That check would bounce, just like all of the Harper government’s other climate promises. The one thing climate scientists and energy experts say we can be sure of, is that the Keystone XL pipeline would deliver a massive new source of carbon pollution.

Mr. President, a national interest determination decision on the Keystone XL pipeline must not be premised on the government of Canada’s mitigation promises. We urge you to reject the pipeline and continue to help build a clean energy future.

Sincerely,

Michael Brune
Executive Director
Sierra Club

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