By Michael O'Leary of Portland, Oregon. Michael is a campaign consultant with the National Wildlife Federation. In 2011 he wrote a guest column in BlueOregon about the successful campaign to block the Keystone XL oil export pipeline.
Senator Ron Wyden took center stage in the national debate on the hotly contested Surface Transportation Bill (S.1813) this week, championing a strategic combination of consumer & environmental interests tied up in the controversial oil export pipeline proposal, the Keystone XL.
While the Keystone XL has been rejected by President Obama as well as the state of Nebraska, collected more than a few unresolved critiques from the EPA, and earned objections from over one hundred Mayors from all over the nation, Republicans have been touting the Keystone as a solution to America’s energy needs, resurrecting the pipeline and attaching it as an amendment to any bill that moves.
Again and again, the media have portrayed the Keystone as pitting environmental concerns versus pocket book concerns.
But this week Senator Wyden refused to let Congressional Republicans occupy the economic high ground, daring the pipeline boosters to put up or shut up, proposing an amendment requiring that the Keystone only operate for the benefit of American consumers. And the Republicans blinked.
The Keystone pipeline, after all, has a fatal flaw. It’s not meant for American consumption. Its heavy crude is contracted to be shipped overseas.
And this week Senator Wyden hammered away at its flaws, slamming the Keystone legislation for bringing “No protection for workers. No protection for the environment and I believe high prices for American businesses and American consumers.”
While many Keystone opponents are focusing on the adverse climate impacts of the high carbon intensities involved, the high rate of spills caused by the abnormally high pressure and corrosive nature of tarsands slurries, and as a social justice issue for the exceptionally toxic impacts of tarsands oil on downstream and downwind communities, Wyden has excelled at framing the debate as a natural extension of questions of fair trade and consumer protection.
In the spring of 2011 he was already leading the charge against the expensive impact on gasoline prices that the oil futures market was having, a call he just renewed with the help of Senator Bernie Sanders.
By the summer of 2011 Senator Wyden took note of the evidence of price-fixing by Keystone’s developer, TransCanada and asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate further.
By October of 2011, Senator Wyden submitted his own op-ed on the economics of the Keystone to the Huffington Post: “Yes, building the pipeline would be good for oil producers, which is why they are paying for the commercials. And it would be good for the Chinese government, which is why they are buying the Canadian oil companies” while it’s no good at all for “regular Americans who don't work for oil companies and American businesses that need oil to operate.”
Too often, doing the right thing for the planet is juxtaposed with doing the right thing for the economy. In some cases these are simply the choices we make as a cost of living responsibly. In other cases, blue/green alliances can fracture under the pressure, resulting in wins for big polluters.
In the case of the Keystone XL, there’s also an alignment of consumer and environmental values to be forged, and Senator Wyden’s found it.
In doing so, he’s quietly becoming the most effective Member of Congress on the subject.