Ron Wyden fights for consumers & environment on Keystone XL

Michael O'Leary

Ron Wyden fights for consumers & environment on Keystone XL

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.

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    "While the Keystone XL has been rejected by President Obama . . ."

    Somebody needs to fill the Obama Administration in on this. They keep insisting the President has NOT rejected the pipeline but that he simply needs more time than Republicans have been willing to give him to make a decision.

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    Jack Roberts is one of the handfull of folks who comment on BO who never suffer any critical evaluation by the editors. I would ask that Jack watch the Rachel Maddow show from last week that demonstrates what the problem with tar sand is. The story is about the Kalamazoo River spill of 2010. This was a tar sand pipeline spill.

    As Jack, and others, should be aware this filthy mess can not be put through a pipeline unless it is treated with chemicals which evaporate once it contacts the air.

    Then the sludge settles to the bottom forming several feet of the sort of stuff that Jack and other Keystone proponents should have in their hottubs and coming out their faucets. This would be a just reward for the stupidity and total lack of regard for humanity, the environment and yes the people who have lost their river. Just how far will these fools go to prove that man can not destroy the earth. That only God can. Please, sir, go to hell.

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    I don't understand the response to Jack--he said Obama has NOT rejected the pipeline, which is exactly true. Or at least, no one in the admin has said they think it shouldn't be built. There was controversy over the aquifer in Nebraska so TransCanada suggested a new route. That route needs a review. The GOP wanted to force it through without it. They lost. All that means is that the review continues.

    Don't blame Jack for pointing out inconvenient truths. He didn't even say whether he thought it was a good idea, only that Obama has not said he's opposed. An he hasn't.

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    The Keystone pipeline, and the administration's response to it has been complicated. The president rejected the fast track approval of the requested permit ONLY after the State Department was caught acting as a PR department for Transcanada, and only after 1253 intrepid folks got themselves arrested in front of the White House (including myself and 8 other Oregonians). Up until then it looked like it was going through despite EPA warnings about serious environmental risk.

    Since then, Obama has cheered efforts by Transcanada to start building the pipeline, piece by piece, starting with Texas, where farmers and ranchers are STILL dealing with attempted land grabs by Transcanada under eminent domain. Can't really call the president all that concerned, actually.

    In the best of all worlds, the myriad environmental issues would make this a no-brainer to deny the permit, but in these times we need any and all efforts to stop this thing. If Senator Wyden wants to frame the issue in economic terms, more power to him. That's the argument most touted by the pro-pipeline activists. At least make the oil money-soaked politicians eat their words and bald-faced lies about how it's going to make gasoline cheaper, create millions of jobs, and free oppressed women in the middle east.

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    Ron Wyden an advocate of "fair trade"? That would be a first! And, Obama has not denied the Keystone XL. As a matter of fact, his spokesperson (Jay carney) said they would expedite the process once the EIS is completed. And the original State dept. EIS was all in favor of the Keystone XL; said there were no adverse environmental effects to be expected as a result of building it.

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