Why we should block the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline – Sen. Bernie Sanders

  • Published on August 17th, 2011

By Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt-I)

We need to move aggressively as a nation toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy to reduce carbon pollution, reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, and create good jobs here in the United States.

Big Oil, with record profits of $1 trillion for the top five oil companies over the last decade, is trying to keep us hooked on oil, even using tobacco industry tactics to confuse the public about global warming.

The science is clear however. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, which includes top scientists at the Departments of Defense, Health, Agriculture, Energy, Transportation, Commerce, Interior, State, as well as NASA, the EPA, and the National Science Foundation, has stated that “warming of the climate is unequivocal…due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases…mainly from the burning of fossil fuels.” We have a national and global imperative to move away from fossil fuels, which pollute our air, imperil our planet, enrich hugely profitable corporations, and make America less secure.

That is why I am disturbed by a proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which could carry as much as 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil across America from Canada every day. It is not just the safety concerns, and those are clear from the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, and more recent pipeline spills in Montana and Michigan. It is the fact that we have better choices for our families, our environment, and our economy.

Building this pipeline will keep America addicted to oil, and while it might be a good deal for Koch Industries, which supplies and refines large volumes of Canadian tar sands oil, it is a bad deal for America. This pipeline would lock in a larger market for higher-priced tar sands oil, which emits up to 82 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil according to the EPA. According to NASA scientists James Hansen, if we exploit tar sands resources aggressively, we could increase carbon dioxide concentrations by more than 50 percent from today’s levels. This would make it essentially impossible, according to Hansen, for us to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide concentrations enough to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

We should say no to Big Oil, and instead say yes to stronger fuel economy standards. President Obama should be commended for increasing fuel standards for cars and light trucks to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Now we have learned his Administration has an agreement with automakers to move to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. While not as aggressive as what the European Union is doing, this is a major step forward. In fact, moving to 54.5 miles per gallon will save consumers up to $7,000 in fuel costs over the life of a new vehicle, and will reduce our nation’s oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels per day in 2030 according to a report by Securing America’s Energy Future.

To put that in context, in that same year, 2030, we are projected to import 2.35 million barrels per day from the new Keystone XL pipeline, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East, combined. In other words, these stronger fuel economy standards alone will eliminate the need for the Keystone XL pipeline, and completely eliminate our dependence on Middle East and Persian Gulf oil. The United Auto Workers estimate we can create tens of thousands of new jobs building these more efficient cars. Better fuel economy standards are a win for consumers, workers, the environment, and energy security.

There are many other ways to reduce our reliance on oil.

  • We can make our buildings and homes that heat with oil more efficient.
  • We can move to renewable heating sources like geothermal, solar, and biomass.
  • We can develop and use truly clean and advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol.
  • We can move aggressively to mass transit, high-speed rail, and plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.

But even if we simply look at the opportunity from fuel economy standards, I have to ask a question: why in the world would we ever consider approving a new Big Oil pipeline to carry dirty fuel and keep America addicted to oil, when we could save money, create jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil by moving to stronger fuel economy standards?   I hope the President, who understands the problem of global warming, is asking himself the same question, and I hope his Administration rejects the new Big Oil tar sands pipeline, and instead continues to push for strong fuel economy standards and clean energy alternatives. I thank you all for bringing attention and focus to these issues, and for your commitment to a sustainable energy future for America.

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