On Tuesday, November 18, I was warming up for a high school basketball game when a friend pulled me off of the court to tell me the that legislation to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline had just failed in the US Senate by one vote. After a joyous leap accompanied by a strong fist pump, I jogged, energized, back onto the floor. However, after calming down and doing some research on the 114th US Congress, which is brand new, I realized that my excitement may have been for nothing. It was hard to be cheerful as I entered the holiday season knowing January would bring a different mix of decision-makers, especially in the Senate, where new majority leader Mitch McConnell has announced approving the risky tar sands pipeline will take first priority in 2015.
The fist pump-prompting Senate vote was prompted itself by the passing of a House bill just four days earlier, which approved construction of the controversial project by over 100 votes. These recent congressional attempts to get the ball rolling on the pipeline by bypassing President Obama and the State Department are enough to make KXL opponents like myself uneasy. In my last blog, I discussed several of the environmental and personal health risks of the pipeline, which I believe should outweigh any potential economic gain from the project. In addition, most of the jobs directly created by the pipeline wouldn’t last longer than a few months (check out the Washington Post’s take on the KXL’s jobs), and more dependence on fossil fuels is the opposite of what our country needs in order to become more sustainable. The idea of politicians like McConnell pushing through something so obviously dangerous at the start of this new year is depressing to say the least.
It is worth mentioning that President Obama could definitely veto any Keystone bill that lands on his desk, and send it back to congress in need of a 2/3 majority vote. However, we can and should do more than cross our fingers and hope that the president himself stands up to the tar sands industry. And, looking back, it is safe to say people everywhere did do more in 2014 as environmentalists, native peoples, and concerned hearts came together to make a strong statement against the KXL and dirty tar sands, and promote clean energy and sustainable measures.
On September 18th, 300,000 people flooded the streets of New York City, and thousands of other solidarity events took place around the globe as part of the People's Climate March, the largest climate change march in history. Signs were raised, words were chanted, and an impression was made on the world as many realized for the first time the severity of climate change and the responsibility that the new generation - my generation - has to turn things around before it’s too late. Many activists, especially in New York, showed up that Sunday morning to protest the KXL and the chokehold the tar sand industry seems to have on our governments and economies. We can only hope that such a massive demonstration had more of an effect on federal and corporate pipeline decisions than simply crossing our fingers would have.
In addition, efforts to stop the mining of tar sands and prevent the passage of KXL were and are continuing to be made by native peoples across North America. But, unlike many other protests, these are working. Small indigenous groups in Canada and the US are standing up to giants like TransCanada, the corporation that proposed the original Keystone Pipeline back in 2005. They have already won some fossil fuel cases that involve their land rights, which are firmly locked into place by US and Canadian courts. The Black Mesa Water Coalition, an organization founded in 2001 to protect the next generation of Navajo and Hopi peoples from the effects of fossil fuels, essentially shut down a Peabody Western Coal Company mine and reduced other coal mining on their land in Arizona in an effort to protect what is theirs. The Indigenous Environmental Network brings together North American native groups to make a stand against tar sands and any Keystone Pipeline extensions. In 2011, the National Congress of American Indians drafted a resolution urging the US to separate itself from tar sands and stop the KXL, which crosses through their “country” at multiple points along its route. As in other parts of the world, native peoples may be the key to stopping destructive projects in North America.
The successful efforts of organizations such as the Black Mesa Water Coalition certainly give hope to those in Canada and the US who are feeling suffocated by the KXL. Senator McConnell’s push to pass the pipeline will kick off with a committee hearing on January 7th, where senators will start making changes to the failed bill in order to move it toward the floor for another vote as soon as possible. My hope is that all opponents of this project, from high school basketball players to American Indians, will enter the new year with vigor, ready to face new lawmakers and continue the fight against dirty energy and the Keystone XL Pipeline.