UCC environmental activists encourage Keystone Pipeline opponents to keep fighting
Written by Emily Schappacher
February 7, 2014
In what is considered to be a blow to environmental activists everywhere, a U.S. State Department report concluded last week that the creation of the Keystone XL Pipeline would not have significant effects on climate change. While "Big Oil" and its supporters consider the study's results a go-ahead to start digging, those opposed to the pipeline still have time to make their voices heard. United Church of Christ activists are calling for the pipeline's opponents to ramp up their efforts during the environmental impact report's 30-day public comment period that ends March 7.
"It's up to us to compel President Obama to reject Keystone," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister and president of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. "If we fail – if 'Big Oil' wins out – then it seems to me our discipleship will be put to the test. We will need to put our bodies on the line – to fill the jails if need be – to create a crisis of conscience in this country."
The Keystone XL Pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands daily from Western Canada and North Dakota to oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico for distribution and export. The State Department's study concluded that because oil companies will continue to extract the crude oil whether the pipeline is built or not, the effect of the pipeline itself on climate change would be minimal. Additionally, without the pipeline, the oil could still travel by train and barge – modes of transportation known to produce significantly higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions and have higher likelihoods of accidents.
While news reports say that the State Department's findings appear to give the Obama administration the reasoning it needs to approve the controversial project, no approval can be given until May 2014 or later, after the 30-day public comment period and an additional 60-day review period for federal agencies. UCC Justice and Witness Ministries is calling on the denomination's members to ask President Barack Obama to stop the Keystone XL, and environmental groups like the Sierra Club and 350.org are also encouraging concerned citizens to sign online petitions calling for rejection of the pipeline.
"The Keystone XL Pipeline reflects a decades-long commitment to fossil fuel extraction at a time when our planet is dying from this very practice," said the Rev. Meighan Pritchard, the UCC's executive minister for environmental justice. "[We need to] submit comments to the State Department about why the Keystone XL Pipeline is not in the national interest."
Liberal Democrats, environmental groups and activists continue to disagree that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not contribute significantly to climate change. For example, a Canadian think-tank estimates that the process of extracting and refining tar sands results in greenhouse gas emissions that are 37 percent higher than conventional oil production. The tar sands industry has said that completion of the Keystone XL will lead to more tar sands production, and opponents argue that the creation of the pipeline would continue the county's reliance on dirty, foreign oil at a time when investments in renewable energy should be taking precedent. In terms of job creation, the State Department says the pipeline would create, at most, 3,900 temporary construction jobs, and only a small number of permanent jobs would remain.
"This is the moment in human history when the Golden Rule needs to become the Golden Rule 2.0," Antal said. "Our generation has to acknowledge that unborn generations are every bit as much our neighbors as the people next to us in the pews on Sunday."