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Keystone XL Exec: To Support Dirty Tar Sands Is To Support 'American Values'

Despite 'largest climate rally ever,' industry leader says public opposition, media interest 'going down'

Jon Queally, staff writer

Following comments made at an industry roundtable with reporters on Tuesday, Sierra Club president Michael Brune said that 'no fact or truth' would penetrate the wall of denial put up by the world's oil and pipeline company executives or their lobbyists.

Asked about the 'Forward on Climate' rally in Washington, DC on Sunday that organizers say brought close to 50,000 people out in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Alex Pourbaix, president of oil pipelines and energy at TransCanada, said: “My experience is the events over the weekend are not getting nearly the coverage in the media they would have a year, year and a half ago. So I’m of the view that the temperature is going down on this issue.”

In a response garnered by Politico, Sierra Club's Brune said:

That TransCanada would say ‘the temperature is going down’ on dirty and dangerous tar sands that would only cause global temperatures to rise shows just how out of touch they are with reality. Whether they’re denying that Keystone XL is an export pipeline or ignoring the significant international news created by the nearly 50,000 Americans who stood up for climate solutions, it’s clear that no fact or truth is sacred to TransCanada.

Revealing the industry's clear public relations strategy at the roundtable, the oil industry reps pushed the oft-repeated canard about 'job creation' with Pourbaix going even further by saying that supporting the tar sands project was synonymous with supporting 'American values.'

"Approval of Keystone XL hinges on one fundamental fact," proffered the Transcanada exec. "Does the U.S. want its oil from a friendly neighbor in Canada and domestic sources like the Bakken play, or does it want to continue to import higher-priced foreign oil from nations that do not support U.S. values - it is that simple."

Joining Pourbaix in the industry's coordinated push back on Tuesday was Marty Durbin, executive Vice President of the American Petroleum Institute. Citing its own poll, Durban promised that the public opposition to the Keystone pipeline was just the clamor from a loud minority. "There is strong public support for Keystone XL," he said.

But, as the Canadian Press observed, the difference between Sunday's rally and Tuesday's industry roundtable could not have been more stark:

[On Sunday] — a sea of placard-waving activists, citizens of all ages and Hollywood celebrities gleefully coming together to demand the pipeline’s rejection compared to [Tuesday's] panel of sombre, suit-and-tie-clad business executives who argued just the opposite to a small group of assembled media.

And Sunday's rally—which took place on the National Mall before becoming a march on President Obama's White House—was not the culmination of the growing movement calling on climate action, say activists, but only its most recent public manifestation.

"Over time," wrote NRDC's Susan Casey-Lefkowitz in the aftermath of Sunday's rally, "the oil industry has found many ways to push the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We have seen wildly exaggerated jobs numbers that falsely raised hope in areas that need work. We have seen arguments about energy security which were unbelievable considering this is a pipeline meant mostly for export. We have seen claims that if the US didn’t take the tar sands it would go to Asia even though Canadians were saying “no” to pipelines to their west coast." 

Ultimately, she suggests, the industry's push for false choices and false dichotomies will backfire.

"We don’t have the billions of dollars that industry has," she concluded. "But we do have our faith that people will do the right thing to protect Mother Earth. The Forward on Climate Rally shows that we are not alone in the fight to stop tar sands expansion and tackle climate change."

And promising continued action against the pipeline and putting much hope in the fast-accelerating fossil fuel divestment movement, groups like, Tar Sands Blockade, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Sierra club—among countless other—say their campaigns represent the desire of millions and that public opinion (industry polls aside) is strongly in their corner.

However, if the industry leaders acknowledged anything so far about those involved with the climate justice movement or those voicing specific opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline it seems to be this: those who don't want the industry's dirty, carbon-intensive, spill-prone product must hate America. It's as simple as that.

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