The Keystone XL pipeline

“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth.  Do the right thing because it is right.  These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”

The above is attributed to W. Clement Stone, a businessman, philanthropist and author who died in 2002, aged 100.  It seemed an appropriate quotation with which to introduce a recent article by Bill McKibben, on the Grist blog, about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Bill McKibben

Keystone pipeline’s last defense: Cold, hard cash

What do you do if you’ve lost an argument?

Say you really really want to build a big pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta so that you can sell your bitumen to the world

But 20 of the nation’s top scientists have written to the president to say it’s a terrible idea — and the planet’s leading climatologist says burning the tar sands would be “game over for the climate.” And nine recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have condemned the plan. And Robert Redford has just made a video explaining why the plan is an attack on the nation’s heartland. Then, if you’re a poor forlorn oil industry feeling unloved and under assault, what do you do?

There’s really only one answer: Flash your wad.

As we get to the final chapters of the Keystone pipeline saga (the president has said he’ll make his decision by year’s end), money’s the only argument these guys have left.

They managed to buy a favorable environmental review from the U.S. State Department, which helpfully outsourced the job to a company that was a “major client” of TransCanada, the pipeline builder.

And yesterday, they proposed a $100 million “performance bond” to the state of Nebraska, whose Republican governor and senator have come out against the pipeline. The money is apparently designed to pay for damage to the Ogallala Aquifer if the pipeline starts to leak.

Meanwhile, when 33 Democratic representatives sent a letter to the White House demanding a rejection of the plan, lobbyists for TransCanada rounded up their own list of lawmakers from the president’s party to issue a rejoinder. But they only found 22. And what do you know — they included nine of the top 10 Democratic recipients of oil money in the House. On average the signatories received over 4.25 times more oil money than the average House Democrat in the 112th Congress. That would be 325 percent more. That would be how the game is played.

The other side — that is, scientists, Nobelists, and the kind of average people who went to jail in record numbers this summer to block the plan — doesn’t have that kind of money. We’ve had to figure out other currencies to work in: spirit, passion, creativity. We’ve spent our bodies, putting them on the line. The odds are still against us, but the odds are changing; we’re on a roll as we head toward Nov. 6, when we’ll ring the White House with people, exactly one year before the election. (You can sign up here.)

But every once in a while we get to play the money game too! While TransCanada was out there setting the $100 million price on the Ogallala Aquifer, this news story rolled across my screen. It described a big Democratic giver, Barbarina Heyerdahl. She gave 120 grand to Obama and the Democratic National Committee over the last three years, not to mention knocking on doors for the 2008 campaign. But she said Keystone is a bridge too far, that “she won’t be writing any more checks to Obama if he approves the carbon conduit that’s become the focus of the climate-change movement. ‘It’s a baseline issue,’ she says.”

I have no doubt that, even with Heyerdahl and other donors accounted for, the oil industry has all the money they need to win this fight. The Koch brothers are the third and fourth richest men in America, and they filed papers in Canada declaring their “direct and substantial” interest in the project. If money’s the only thing that matters, they’ll carry the day.

But if money’s the only thing that matters, we’re done for anyway. So we’ll keep using science and art and courage. And we’ll hope that Barack Obama hasn’t sold his soul. We’re going to find out in the next few weeks.

Bill McKibben is founder of and Schumann Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He also serves on Grist’s Board of Directors.

Bill’s website may be found here.  Also, please PLEASE watch the video made by Robert Redford.  Only 3 mins 25 seconds long, the ink to the video is here.

Finally, a YouTube video from Tars and Action.

All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

2 thoughts on “The Keystone XL pipeline

  1. Thanks for posting this, Paul. Bill McKibben is brilliant and has a wonderful way with words (as in “But if money’s the only thing that matters, we’re done for anyway.“). We can thereofore only hope that money will not prevail next week. I am very glad to see that he and many others have been pushing the message “just because we can, does not mean that we should” message long before I started…


  2. Received recently:

    Note, the links in the email sent to me weren’t transferred to this comment.

    To participate on November 6th:

    To donate:

    Dear friends,

    We now have unmistakable proof that our message is getting through to President Obama.

    Just yesterday, Obama was giving a speech at a campaign stop in Denver. As the President was speaking, a Native American leader named Tom Poor Bear unfurled a 5-foot banner that said “Stop the Keystone Pipeline Project.” The audience cheered — and the President paused his speech and acknowledged Tom and the other protestors. Instead of dismissing Tom as a heckler, he said “Thank you guys… no decision has been made. I know your deep concern about it, and we will address it.”

    I don’t know what that really means for the President’s final decision on the pipeline, but I do know it means that President Obama hears us. And when you have the President’s ear, it’s best to speak loud and clear.

    So we’re going all out on November 6th in DC: we’ll be encircling the White House with thousands of people, demanding that President Obama stops the Keystone XL pipeline. We’re hoping as many people as possible join the action on the 6th — but we understand that not everyone can make the journey. If you can’t join us in DC, you can still help by chipping in to take the action to the next level.

    I’ll join in DC for the big action on November 6th — sign me up!

    I can’t make the journey, but I’ll chip in what I can to help.

    We don’t usually send out fundraising appeals, but we need to raise some fast cash to support some folks who need our help. Earlier this week we received a call for solidarity and support from activists around the country — people who want to make their voices heard in DC, but don’t have the money to make the journey. It’s just $50 for a seat on the bus to the action, but those costs add up fast and we’ve already maxed out our budget for charter buses.

    If we can raise $15,000 in the next 24 hours, we’ll be able to charter more buses to bring people to DC from communities in Nebraska, the heart of where the pipeline would run, and the Gulf Coast, where the impacts of the oil industry have been devastating. If we don’t raise more money soon, we’ll miss our window of opportunity to reserve the buses. It would be amazing to see this movement — that’s all of you — come together to help bring these folks to the action in DC.

    The plan for November 6th is to completely surround the White House with people — thousands of people holding banners and signs with President Obama’s own quotes and promises on them. Words like “Let’s be the generation that finally frees itself from the tyranny of oil” and “The choices that we make will help determine the kind of country — and world — that we will leave to our children and grandchildren.”

    It’s a big vision and a bigger undertaking, we need all the help you can give — not just for transportation, but to accommodate our growing crowd. We’ll need to pay for banners, signs, walkie-talkies, and porta-potties (not glamorous, but we have to have ‘em).

    If you can chip in anything at all, we could use the support. Just click here to donate.

    With gratitude,

    Jamie Henn for the Team

    P.S. Need a quick background on the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline? Click here to read today’s piece in USA Today by Bill McKibben, and click here to share it on Facebook.


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