TransCanada and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly touted safety standards for the proposed Keystone XL heavy crude pipeline as robust and unparalleled. As proof, they point to 57 “special conditions” that the Alberta-based pipeline operator has agreed to follow.
But environmental watchdogs counter that those much-boasted-about claims are based on nothing more than smoke and mirrors. And they have compiled evidence to back up their accusations.
According to recent research by the Natural Resources Defense Council, only 12 of the 57 conditions set by federal regulators at the Department of Transportation differ in any way at all from the minimum standards the DOT routinely requires for pipeline safety. NRDC is an advocacy organization intent on halting construction of the pipeline.
“Many of these safety conditions are just restating current regulations,” said Anthony Swift, the NRDC energy analyst responsible for the point-by-point study. “But they’ve been used as the cornerstone in the argument that we don’t need to worry about Keystone XL because these 57 conditions will solve any unknown safety risk that the pipeline poses.”
To many environmentalists, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement this week that it would miss a deadline for setting greenhouse gas regulations for power plants and refineries is one more sign that the Obama administration is dragging its feet on a range of environmental issues.
Whether or not that’s true, the economy – particularly record joblessness – seems to be trumping the environment these days.
Earlier this month, the White House asked the EPA to rewrite an air-quality rule on smog-producing ozone that critics warned would cost millions of jobs. The more pressing need now, President Obama said, is “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”
The administration also seems increasingly likely to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico – a prospect that has seen protesters arrested outside the White House. Meanwhile, Obama signed a budget bill that could reduce protections for wolves and wilderness in western states.
Writing in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Jeff Goodell, author of “How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate,” acknowledges that the president made a deal with automakers to double fuel-efficiency standards by 2025, increased spending for clean-energy research, and “made some impressive appointments to key positions,” including EPA chief Lisa Jackson and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
“But overall, Obama’s record on the environment has been uninspired – and that’s putting it kindly,” Mr. Goodell writes. “He hasn’t stopped coal companies from blowing up mountaintops and devastating large regions of Appalachia. He caved in on tightening federal standards for ozone pollution, putting the lives of millions of Americans at risk. And the biggest tragedy: He has done almost nothing to rein in carbon pollution – or even to convince Americans that, in the long run, cooking the planet with coal and oil is a bad idea.”
Earlier this summer, a few friends and I went on a backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park. We had been told that the waterfalls were especially spectacular this year, on account of the spring melt of an unusually large snowpack. We were unprepared for just how impressive the rushing water would be. On our first day, we came to a bridge over the formidable Wapama Falls. White water poured over the railings, making the floor slick and dousing us as we scampered across. About a week after we got home, two hikers had died crossing the same bridge.
That was just the beginning of a very deadly summer in Yosemite. So far this season, 18 people have died in the park, way up from the 12 or so who die in a typical year. Thinking about the tragedies got me wondering: Could climate change be playing a role in making outdoor recreation more dangerous? And if it’s not now, then might it in the future?
Wolves are routinely, baselessly and contemptuously blamed for the demise of everything from marmots to mountain caribou in western Canada. Given that attitude, we at Raincoast Conservation Foundation are appalled, though not surprised, by Canada’s proposed strategy to “recover” dwindling populations of boreal forest caribou in northern Alberta’s tar sands territory. Essentially, the plan favours the destruction of wolves over any consequential protection, enhancement or expansion of caribou habitat.
Clearly, the caribou recovery strategy is not based on ecological principles or available science. Rather, it represents an ideology on the part of advocates for industrial exploitation of our environment, which subsumes all other principles to economic growth, always at the expense of ecological integrity. Owing to the breadth of the human niche, which continues to expand via technological progress, the human economy grows at the competitive exclusion of nonhuman species in the aggregate. The real cost of Alberta’s tar sands development, which includes the potential transport of oil by Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines is being borne by wolves, caribou and other wild species.
Two weeks ago an American solar company declared bankruptcy. It was one of three U.S. solar companies to go under in a month, but this one was special. Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer, risked losing as much as $528 million in taxpayer money the day it shuttered its Freemont, Calif., factory and is now calling into question the integrity of the government’s loan guarantee program for renewable energies.
But while the evidence continues to prove that gambling millions in taxpayer money on a company that made just $3 for a product that took $7 to produce was rather unwise, it doesn’t look like the one bad apple has ruined the whole orchard of green energy investments.
“I think renewable energy remains one of the best long-term investments one can make as long as you’re careful to pick your companies,” said Garvin Jabusch, chief investment officer at Green Alpha Advisers, which focuses on environmentally sustainable investments. “If some companies go bankrupt, this is just normal capitalism.”