Editorial: Keystone victory is first step to ending special breaks for industry

When President Barack Obama rejected a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil 1,750 miles from the tar sands of western Canada to the refineries in Texas, it was more than a victory for Ripton environmentalist Bill McKibben against this one project: it was a rare victory against the special treatment the U.S. government has long given the oil industry.
It also signals the beginning of change, perhaps, in the county’s attitude when weighing the value of dirty energy against the health of the environment.
“It would be incomprehensible to give approval to a tar sands oil project when producing tar sands oil creates 82 percent more carbon emissions than conventional oil, and when it poses the risk of extremely damaging oil spills,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate energy and environment committees.
“This inherently dirty tar sands project would be a wasteful diversion from the cleaner and more sustainable energy future and energy security that are so important to our country and to our economy,” added Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
McKibben heaped praise on Vermont’s congressional delegation saying they had displayed exceptional leadership in Congress since August 20, when McKibben initiated a sit-in against the project outside the White House for two weeks. Hundreds of people from throughout the country participated in the civil disobedience and McKibben, along with 1,253 others, was arrested but released without charges after being held for three days.
Despite winning this one battle, what happens next is even more important.
President Obama rejected the permit because Republicans had forced a rushed process on the president when they caved in late December and finally approved extending payroll tax cuts for the middleclass. That hurried deadline, the president said, made it impossible to conduct a thorough investigation of the pipeline to ensure it met all safety and environmental requirements. He was clear, however, that he was not rejecting the pipeline on its merits at this time, but rather on the process. If the routine process through the state department is re-established, studies are expected to be completed in time for a decision in 2013.
That gives McKibben and his fellow supporters another year to convince President Obama, and a majority in Congress, that the project should be denied.
McKibben is not wasting any time. In response to Republican critics who reject the science behind climate change and who exaggerate the number of jobs building the pipeline would create, McKibben will lead 500 activists all wearing referee shirts in a Capitol Hill protest to “blow the whistle” on politicians who take money from the oil industry and then vote their special interests — not to mention “fib” about the “bogus job numbers” and other misinformation spread by the oil industry. The protesters will hold signs listing the amounts of money members of Congress have received from the energy industry and then voted on their behalf.
“If the referees at the Super Bowl were on the take, it would be a national scandal,” McKibben told Nicole Gaudiano, a Washington.D.C.-based reporter. “For some reason, we’ve come to take it for granted that that kind of conflict of interest is just fine in D.C. But it’s not just fine.”
In his sights, McKibben said, are the billions in taxpayer subsidies that go to the fossil-fuel industry and the lobbying money that is used to buy votes in Congress. Putting a halt to climate change, he said, won’t occur by simply stopping the Keystone XL project. It won’t happen, he said, until the public puts an end to the “special breaks for the fossil fuel industry.”
In an era of political cynicism and hopelessness that government can do anything that contradicts big money, it’s a movement that offers hope and inspiration. This recent victory makes it seem possible.
Angelo S. Lynn

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