Why EPA Gave the Keystone XL a Failing Grade

As you may know, I’m far away listening to harrowing accounts from East Africans whose families and lives are being threatened right now by the impact of climate change. We are stunned at what we’re hearing. But this morning at breakfast, all the buzz among my fellow creation care advocates was about news from 7,500 miles away. In Washington, the EPA had just released their environmental report card on the Keystone XL pipeline. They gave the project a failing grade.

The way the law works, the State Department first has to produce an environmental impact statement (EIS) on this pipeline. The EPA is then required to review the EIS, and give it the expert thumbs up, or a failing grade. 95% of the time, the EPA has only minor comments on EIS reports produced by other agencies. But this one flunked: “Environmental Objection,” was the grade; they called the EIS “insufficient.”

But we also learned something new about what democracy looks like. More than one million messages to the President and Secretary of State were submitted from members of various organizations concerned about environmental protection and climate change. And that doesn’t count messages directly sent by private citizens like the readers of Beloved Planet. I wonder how many issues have drawn one million objections from Americans. Not many, I’d bet. 

Now, it’s one thing for you or me to write the President. But what about the EPA? Why have they panned this EIS report? Here’s a short list of their objections:

  • The EIS began with an almost incredible assumption: Up or down, this pipeline decision won’t affect tar sands production and CO2 emissions virtually at all. The EPA pointed out that the Keystone XL would deliver from Canada some of the dirtiest oil in the world, resulting in 935 million metric tons more CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere than would result from producing an equal amount of ordinary U.S. oil. How much would those extra greenhouse gases cost the people of the world? At the low end, U.S. government agencies today would set the price tag at $19.6 billion dollars. At the high end, a study in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences would put the cost at mind-boggling $235 billion – a $34 tax on every human living on earth today, falling unequally on poor people like the Kenyan farmers whose struggle we lament in these pages.
  • The EIS assumes that greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands crude are only 17-percent higher than conventional crude. The EPA thinks that “the difference may be even greater depending on the assumptions made.” The real result is very possibly much worse. And that means the costs to you might also be much worse.
  • The report underestimates the difficulty of cleaning up heavy tar sands spills. Tar sands don’t act like normal oil spills. Large portions of them spilled in waterways sink to the lake bottoms and riverbeds, rather than floating on the surface where it’s comparatively easy to clean up; and they just don’t biodegrade. Americans on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas are figuring this out to their sorrow.

So, if you already joined the one million of us who wrote the President, this is a day to celebrate a small victory for creation care. If not, don’t worry! It’s definitely not too late. Obama hasn’t made any decision yet, and your email may be the one that convinces him that enough is enough. You could just click here, and send him a short note. And you could remind him of the first job that the God of his faith gave to us after he made our race: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to serve it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

 

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