Fake news about “global cooling”

Right wing websites have been promoting fake, or at least deceptive, news about alleged global cooling.

The explanation is that 2016 was the hottest year on record. As the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies reports (https://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20180118/):

Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2017 ranked as the second warmest since 1880, according to an analysis by NASA.

Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, globally averaged temperatures in 2017 were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.90 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. That is second only to global temperatures in 2016.

So, the fact that things have cooled off a bit from the record highs of 2016 doesn’t mean there’s a significant trend of global cooling.  The temperatures since then are still unusually high.

Global Warming Trend from NASAGlobal Warming Trend
This map shows Earth’s average global temperature from 2013 to 2017, as compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1980, according to an analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Yellows, oranges, and reds show regions warmer than the baseline. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio) Source: NASA.

CarbonWA's initiative I-732 qualifies

This week we’ve got official confirmation that I-732 has qualified (!), a final 250 Club update, the unveiling of our new website (yeson732.org), and a great editorial on carbon pricing in the NY Times.

I-732 qualifies!

We will share the official document with you when it’s released, but for now we have (what else?) a Twitter post from the Secretary of State’s office that I-732 was certified, plus an email that their 3% sampling procedure “projected 262,940 valid signatures, well above the required 246,372”. Great work everyone—staff, interns, volunteers, donors—and a great segue to our final 250 Club update (with the caveat that you should let me know if we’ve mistakenly left you off the list!).

250 Club update

Congratulations to our new members of the 250 Club (and please contact us if you don’t already have your CarbonWA t-shirt!): Amity Kramer in Seattle and Jan Keller, Carol Reich, and Mary Saylor in east King County. They join previous 250 Club members Heidi Cody in Vancouver; Bob Hallahan and Judy Kaplan on Whidbey Island; Gretchen Allison and Kay Keeler on San Juan Island; Cindy Jayne and Dick Stockment in Port Townsend; Martha Bishop and Barb Zimmer from Climate Action Bainbridge; three supporters in Yakima (Peter Dufault, Chuck Foster, and Eleanor Hungate); five supporters from east King County (Bob Ellis, France Giddings, Eric Hanson, Rob Marsh, and Marilyn Mayers); six supporters from Olympia (Tom Holtz, Jennifer Miller, Carole Richmond, Susan Sunshine, Frank Turner, and Jack Zeigler); two supporters from Bellingham (Amy Nielson and Rosa Rice-Pelepko), and 26 people in Seattle (Morgane Arriola at UW Seattle, Julia Bent, Kyle Conyers, Chris Covert-Bowlds, John C., Alex Dolk, Keith Ervin, Bruce Flory, Polly Freeman, Savannah Kinzer, Lindsey Klemp, Sean Kraft, Raphael Ladmer-Price, Galen LaPlante, Alex Lenferna, Scott McClay, Phil Mitchell, Todd Mitchell, Margaret Moore, Trevor Partington, Nancy Penrose, Mishu Pham-Whipple, Bill Roach, Mike Ruby, Phil Singer, and Ed Watcher).

Double congratulations to folks who have hit 500 signatures: David Scheer and Joe Wiederhold from Bellingham and David Chapin, Court Olson, and George Reynoldson in east King County. They join Ed Chadd in Port Angeles, Gary Piazzon on Whidbey Island, Scott Finley on San Juan Island, Larry Lowther in Ellensburg; Chom Greacen from Lopez Island; Betty Hauser in Olympia; three supporters from east King County (Chris Diehl, Laura Rivendell, and staffer Jason Puracal); four members from Climate Action Bainbridge (Bruce Bonifaci, Frank Gremse, Omie Kerr, and Alex Mezentsev); five supporters from Bellingham (Andy Day, David Gary, Anna Paulson, Kayta Tourtillot, and Andew Zvilna); and nine supporters in Seattle (Robin Briggs, Megan Conaway, Ron Lindsey, John Lombard, JL, Tim Newcomb, Anne Shields, Fritz Wollett, and campaign co-director Duncan Clauson).

Quadruple congratulations to Ben Larson and John Whitmer from Bellingham for passing 1,000+ signatures. They join Louise Stonington from east King County; Ande Finley from Lopez Island; Thad Curtz and Penny Purkerson in Olympia; Dave Hopkinson and staffers David Jackman and Rheanna Johnston in Bellingham; six supporters from Climate Action Bainbridge (Brian Anderson, Herb Hethcote, Cheryl Hunter, Gerlind Jenkner, Mary Clare Kersten, and Erika Shriner); and 11 folks from Seattle (David Foutch, Bob Jeffers-Schroeder, Mike Massa, Alan Ness, Ben Pfeiffer, Julia Robinson, Aaron Tam at UW Seattle, yours truly, campaign co-director Kyle Murphy, and Seattle staffers Ben Silesky and Laurel Wolf). And extra bonus congratulations for folks with 2000+ signatures (Cheryl Hunter, Julia Robinson, and campaign co-director Kyle Murphy, joining Ben Pfeiffer and Gerlind Jenkner), folks with 3000+ signatures (staffers Ben Silesky and Laurel Wolf), and Bob Jeffers-Schroeder with over 4000!

New website

Check out our new website at yeson732.org. Please send feedback to duncan@carbonwa.org, and thanks to Duncan, to our “communications QB” Bill Boyd, and to web designer Warren Curkendall for bringing this to life!

In the news

Top of the list is the fabulous NYT editorial “Proof That a Price on Carbon Works”: “British Columbia started taxing emissions in 2008. One big appeal of its system is that it is essentially revenue-neutral… Researchers have found that the tax helped cut emissions but has had no negative impact on the province’s growth rate, which has been about the same or slightly faster than the country as a whole in recent years.”

In other news: Last year (2015) was by far the hottest year on record (see also the NYT and this visual from Bloomberg). Bloomberg also has “Watch Elon Musk and Exxon Finally Agree on Something”, and there’s a new carbon pricing study from World Resources Institute; see the WRI blog on “A Carbon Price Will Reduce Emissions More than Computer Models Predict” and note that this relates to the EIA studies that we’ve discussed previously. News specifically about Carbon Washington includes this Niskanen Center blog by Shi-Ling Hsu and Bloomberg’s “Tom Steyer Battles Green Frenemies in the Pacific Northwest”. More news from Olympia next week, and If you haven’t already done so please write your legislators… and if you have already written them then don’t hesitate to contact them again to make sure they’re in the loop on recent developments!

Successful Climate Justice Activism

Look what we have accomplished together! (see the media roundup below)
Paddle In Seattle
Together we were:

Paddle in Seattle Stranger CoverLed by the beauty and spirit of the moment,

Emboldened by the drums and wise words of the Duwamish and Native Canoe families and the voices of those on the front-lines of the climate crisis,

D
riven by a moral obligation to take principled and bold action in service of a habitable planet and younger generations.

300+ people (and countless others on land) took to the water, paddling straight to Shell’s Arctic destroyer to demand climate justice.

It is in these moments that we solidify the courage to act upon our convictions. The Paddle In Seattle has seized headlines across the world and has inspired others to join the movements for climate justice.

Thank you for sharing in our vision and for striving to manifest it. Collectively we have done something truly beautiful and powerful.

Kayaktivists confront artic destructionNow, we must use this momentum and spotlight to push onward.

Right now, we are resuming kayaktivist trainings and organizing a rapid response network for when Shell dares to leave for the Arctic. We’re also connecting the solar powered People’s Platform with upcoming night-time paddle actions.

 

 

Media Round-Up:

Chief Seattle is Watching banner at Jack Block with Native      Canoes by Alex GarlandThe news from the weekend made national and global headlines in addition to completely saturating Seattle media (best- KOMO 4 TV, KIRO 7 TV, Q13 Fox TV, Stranger, Seattle PI, West Seattle Herald) This has completely changed the conversation around Arctic drilling and rocketed it to being a top national and even international issue. Even Obama found himself extolling the virtues of protecting the Arctic at a USCG Academy commencement address.

Here are a few highlights: on Saturday, the protest was #3 on BBC World News (right beneath the ISIS raid and Morsi’s death sentence, to give you perspective). The Guardian went wild with coverage as well (here, here, here, and here) and it even reached Australia!

The Associated Press story was picked up in nearly every major paper across the country from Atlanta to Minneapolis to Dallas and on ABC and Yahoo news.

The coverage from the NBC affiliate, King 5 TV, was picked up nationally.

The photos were particularly well-traveled with even Leonardo Dicaprio posting the aerial kayak photos on his Instagram.
Paddle In Seattle
Here is a roundup of the photos from Grist.

The speeches all came from native and impacted people telling us powerful truths. In fact, after traveling to Seattle from the North Slope, Mae Hank and Faith Gemmill-Fredson – founder and executive director of the grassroots indigenous network REDOIL- confronted Shell at the AGM meeting in London. Faith spoke directly to Shell shareholders saying “The moral and financial burden of the irresponsible decision to drill in the Arctic is too risky to consider.”

Paddle In SeattleArctic drilling dominated the coverage of the meeting, casting serious investor doubt on the project.

Earlier in the week, Kayaktivists were live on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, followed by an amazing segment on Rachel Maddow during which she spent several minutes reading out-loud the riveting and terrifying piece “The Wreck of the Kulluk.”

The Monday following the actions, there was even more national coverage. Here are just a few of the highlights: USA Today, NPR, Slate.

Lastly, #ShellNo and “Arctic drilling” were trending on Twitter and Facebook, respectively!

Floating Banner Defend The Arctic Climate Justice Now

New Kayaktivism Training Dates:

 

 

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT!

Donate online HERE or send checks to PO BOX 278, Vashon, WA 98070

Carbon Taxes Are Even Better than You Think

Executive summary

The Carbon Washington carbon tax proposal is revenue neutral, with about 70% of the carbon tax revenue going to reduce the state sales tax by a full percentage point and the remaining revenue divided between reductions in manufacturing taxes and funding for the Working Families Rebate, a state-level bump-up of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Household impacts will vary by household (see the carbon tax swap calculator for detailed estimates) but in aggregate the carbon tax and the sales tax reduction will roughly offset each other for each income quintile, with most households paying a few hundred dollars a year more for fossil fuels and a few hundred dollars a year less for everything else. The dominant impact on social justice will therefore come from the Working Families Rebate, which at 25% of the federal EITC will provide up to $1500 a year for 400,000 low- and middle-income working families in Washington State.

Thanks to the sales tax reduction and the Working Families Rebate, passing the Carbon Washington revenue-neutral carbon tax proposal will be the biggest improvement to the progressivity of the Washington State tax system since the 1977 ballot measure that exempted groceries from the sales tax.

 

Introduction

There are three ways that climate policy affects social justice. The first, not surprisingly, is as climate policy: everyone seems to agree that global warming will hit the poor harder than the rich, so there is a social justice benefit to reducing carbon emissions. A carbon tax is a great way to do this, as described in my previous posts: “Carbon taxes are better than you think (Part I: Transportation)” and “Carbon taxes are even better than you think (Part II: Electricity)”.

By reducing fossil fuel consumption, a carbon tax will also provide co-benefits by reducing emissions of local air pollutants like particulate matter and sulfur dioxide; these co-benefits will be especially valuable for the low-income communities and communities of color who are disproportionately affected by local air pollution hot spots. These co-benefits are the second way that climate policy affects social justice.

The third way that climate policy affects social justice is as fiscal policy. This is especially easy to see in the case of Carbon Washington’s carbon tax swap, a revenue-neutral approach that uses carbon tax revenues to reduce the state sales tax, fund the Working Families Rebate, and effectively eliminate the B&O business tax for manufacturing.

Tax Swap Poster(mini)

Before diving into the policy, however, let’s provide an overview of state and local tax systems.

 

State and local tax systems

The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has a terrific website that describes the state and local tax systems in all fifty states, including a graphical depiction of the percentage of income that different income groups pay in state and local taxes. This depiction includes the bottom four income quintiles (the lowest 20%, the second-lowest 20%, the middle 20%, and the fourth 20%) and a division of the top income quintile into three subgroups, ending with the richest 1%.

The next four graphs show the ITEP results for Oregon, Idaho, California, and Washington State. The first three all have fairly flat tax systems, meaning that households across the income spectrum pay about the same percentage of their income in state and local taxes.

OR

ID

CA

WA

Washington State has the dubious distinction of having the most regressive state and local tax system in the nation, but the ITEP graphs for Tennessee and Florida look fairly similar. What all three states have in common is a heavy reliance on sales taxes and the absence of a state income tax.

This combination almost inevitably produces a regressive state and local tax structure. Without an income tax, the share of income that high earners pay in taxes is likely to remain relatively low because they allocate relatively more of their income to savings, services, out-of-state spending, and other areas that are not subject to sales taxes in their home jurisdiction. It follows that a carbon tax—which is more like a sales tax than an income tax—is unlikely to alter the fundamental structure of the Washington State tax system.

It is, however, possible to use carbon tax revenues to reduce the tax burden on the lowest income households in Washington State, and this is what the Carbon Washington policy does by reducing the state sales tax and funding the Working Families Rebate.

 

Carbon taxes and sales tax reductions roughly offset each other

The first way our policy addresses financial impacts on low-income households (and more generally on households and businesses across the state) is by reducing the state sales tax. Cutting the state sales tax by a full point reduces the burden of sales taxes by 10-15 percent, depending on how you count it. (The state sales tax is currently 6.5 percent, but local sales taxes bring the current total up towards 10 percent in many areas of the state. If you focus on the state rate, a reduction to 5.5 percent is a savings of 15.4 percent; if you focus on the total state-plus-local rate, the percentage reduction depends on the specific local rate, but a reduction from the Seattle total of 9.5 percent to 8.5 percent is a savings of 10.5 percent.)

Sales taxes are of course regressive—lower-income households pay more as a percentage of their income because they spend more of their income on items that are subject to sales tax—so reducing the sales tax is a good way to make a carbon tax swap more progressive. (Whether or not carbon taxes are themselves regressive is a matter of some debate among economists, with one of the key questions being whether you should focus on current income or on lifetime income; see here for some details.)

To a first approximation, the household impact of the carbon tax and the sales tax reduction offset each other: most households will pay a few hundred dollars a year more for fossil fuels and a few hundred dollars a year less for everything else. The exact details will of course vary from household to household (see the carbon tax swap calculator to evaluate the impacts on your household) but for aggregate results we can use the Consumer Expenditure Survey and data from the EIA (natural gas prices, retail gasoline prices, home heating oil prices, and electricity prices) to estimate that carbon tax payments for various income quintiles are roughly in line with the sales tax savings estimated from the carbon tax swap calculator: about $100 a year for the lowest income quintile, about $200 a year for the second-lowest income quintile, and about $250, $300, and $450 a year, respectively, for the higher income quintiles.

salesTaxEstimate copy

Source: Based on the 2002 Tax Structure Study Report.

 

Assuming that the carbon tax and the sales tax reduction offset each other, we can focus on the Working Families Rebate. Stated simply, the conclusion of our analysis is this: Passing the Carbon Washington revenue-neutral carbon tax proposal will be the biggest improvement to the progressivity of the Washington State tax system since the 1977 ballot measure that exempted groceries from the sales tax. (See pp18-21 of the state’s Tax Reference Manual 2010 for a history of tax changes in the state.)

 

The Working Families Rebate

The largest anti-poverty program in the United States is the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The federal EITC is a refundable tax credit that benefits low-income working households by providing a percentage match of earned income up to a certain level. (See figure below, and note that “refundable” means that households receive a check if their tax due is less than the amount of the credit.) The EITC provides a maximum credit of $496 for households without children, $3,305 for households with 1 child, $5,460 for households with 2 children, and $6,143 for households with 3 or more children.

eitcGraph

Source: Tax Policy Center.

 

Twenty-five states (and New York City and Washington, DC) provide local bump-ups of the federal EITC; for example, low-income households in Kansas receive from the state government a refundable state income tax credit equal to 17% of their federal EITC. The bump-up rates range from 3.5% of the federal EITC to 50% of the federal EITC.

Washington State has no income tax, but in 2008 the state government created a “sales tax exemption” for working families that equals 10% of the federal EITC. This Working Families Tax Exemption—a.k.a. Working Families Rebate—currently exists in state law as RCW 82.08.0206, but it has never been funded. (For even more details see the great work of the Washington Budget & Policy Center, but note that they’re assuming a bump-up of 10 percent of the federal EITC, while our policy provides a bump-up of 15 percent in year 1 and 25 percent thereafter.)

A 25% Working Families Rebate provides up to $1500 a year for 400,000 working families in Washington State. The impact is greatest for households with children and least for households without children and (obviously) households without earned income. The following graphics show that the Working Families Rebate has a significant impact on the state and local tax structure in Washington State for many (albeit not all) low-income households. (The red numbers in parentheses show the tax savings for a household with the average income for each ITEP income quintile.)

WA-married-1

WA-single-1

WA-married-2

WA-single-2

WA-married-3

WA-single-3

The graphics show that a 25% Working Families Rebate would have a tremendous impact on low-income households with children. In fact, funding the Working Families Rebate at a 25% level would provide the greatest improvement to the progressivity of the Washington State tax system since the sales tax exemption on groceries was passed at the ballot in 1977.

We can use the Consumer Expenditure Survey for a more in-depth comparison of the Working Families Rebate and the sales tax exemption on groceries. Households in the lowest income quintile spend an average of $2500 on groceries, so a 9.5% sales tax exemption amounts to $240 per household, or about $120 million for the approximately 520,000 households in this income quintile in Washington State. Households in the second-lowest income quintile spend an average of $3200 on groceries, so a 9.5% sales tax exemption amounts to $300 per household, or about $150 million for the approximately 520,000 households in this income quintile in Washington State. Total savings for households in the lowest two income quintiles therefore total $270 million a year.

Our 25% Working Families Rebate totals about $200 million a year, which is comparable to (albeit somewhat lower than) the total for the sales tax exemption for groceries.

One major difference is that the sales tax exemption for groceries was not revenue-neutral: it reduced state General Fund revenues. The carbon tax swap is intended to be revenue-neutral, with the carbon tax revenues offsetting the sales tax reduction, the Working Families Rebate, and the reduction in business taxes for manufacturing.

Another major difference is that the sales tax exemption for groceries is likely to provide roughly equal benefits to all households in a given income quintile. In contrast, the Working Families Rebate concentrates benefits on households with earned income and on households with children. (According to the Census Bureau, about 55% of people in poverty are in households with children.) The minimum Working Families Rebate is $100 a year, so qualifying households with children will receive a Working Families Rebate of between $100 and $1500. In contrast, qualifying households without children will receive a much smaller Working Families Rebate—the maximum is only $125—and of course households do not qualify for the Working Families Rebate if they don’t have earned income or otherwise don’t qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. These households will receive sales tax reductions that are likely to offset their carbon tax liabilities, and they will benefit from the climate policy impacts of the Carbon Washington proposal, but the main fiscal policy benefits will accrue to households with children.

Originally posted at CarbonWA

WA GOP: Fund filthy roads first

WA GOP: Fund Filthy Roads First

For background, see Democrats Challenge Republican Two Thirds Rule, Shut Down Senate Transportation Vote

The Democratic amendment, which lost on a party line vote, would have also blocked a controversial GOP amendment that takes all sales tax revenue from transportation projects out of the general fund (about $1 billion) and puts it into the transportation package. The Democrats argue that GOP provision will decimate education funding and social service funding.

Seattle state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, SE Seattle) proposed a similar amendment, which also lost along party lines. Her compromise amendment would have also gone along with the GOP change, but only after the legislature came up with a plan to fund K-12 first. Her amendment mocked the GOP “Fund Education First” mantra; the GOP has repeatedly proposed not funding any of the budget until they fund education. “It looks like funding education first is just a slogan and not something they’re actually willing to do,” Jayapal said. In addition to the sales tax change and raiding the toxics account, the transportation package includes a few other things the Democrats don’t like: Only about six percent of the money goes to multimodal projects; Sound Transit got 25 percent less taxing authority than they requested; and the legislation has a provision the Democrats have taken to calling “the poison pill.” That provision says that all the money for pedestrian, bike, and transit (that’s that six percent for multimodal) turns into roads-only money if governor Jay Inslee uses his executive authority to green light low carbon fuel standards.

News from CarbonWA

Campaign co-directors: We are delighted to announce that Kyle Murphy and Duncan Clauson will be starting on February 1 as campaign co-directors! Kyle, who worked last year as Field Director for the Yes for Seattle Transit campaign, will focus on Organizing; Duncan, who has an MPA from the UW Evans School of Public Affairs, will focus on Operations. Both have already been working hard on the campaign as volunteers, and as full-time paid staff they will follow in the footsteps of our previous stellar staffers Claire Meints and Kristy Royce. You can reach Kyle and Duncan at kyle@carbonwa.org and duncan@carbonwa.org, but please note that they don’t start full-time until the first of February!

Media and readings: One of our eight winter deliverables is to become part of the conversation, and as evidence that we’re succeeding note that our carbon tax effort was highlighted in the first question of this Grist interview with Governor Inslee. The governor took a little jab at carbon taxes—“Don’t bring a feather to a knife fight”—and as we build momentum we can expect more jabs. (See here and here and here for additional examples, the last two being responses to pieces like “How B.C. does climate policy right” from Matt Horne of Pembina and the amazing editorial on “Why Stephen Harper should love carbon taxes” in the Globe and Mail: “Aspiring politicians outside of BC, book yourself a plane ticket, and go visit your future.”)

Now, it’s not for CarbonWA to get into a back-and-forth with the governor about carbon taxes v. cap-and-trade—CarbonWA is the relief pitcher, and the relief pitcher doesn’t criticize the starting pitcher!—but we will provide evidence supporting the effectiveness of our policy, so if you’re interested please check out my two new research posts: “Carbon taxes are better than you think (Part I: Transportation)” and “Carbon taxes are even better than you think (Part II: Electricity)”.

Other readings for the week include Cliff Mass’s “What should Governor Inslee do about climate change?”, Sara Cate’s “Saturday Soapbox” in the Yakima Herald, Sustainable West Seattle’s Andy Silber on an “Alternative approach to climate change negotiations”, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer’s “Raise the gas tax. A lot” in the Washington Post, and these three pieces from carbon pricing advocates in Oregon. Also, Governor Inslee’s bill has been officially introduced as SB 5283 / HB 1314… and the state Senate voted in a rule change that apparently requires a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate to pass the governor’s proposal.

Materials: Another one of our eight winter deliverables is to update our website and materials. This is something that Duncan will be spearheading when he comes on board full-time, but for now I want to post (and encourage feedback on) this PPT presentation (based on my UW panel presentation last week) and on our 2-page brochure (which as you’ll see is intended to be printed and folded in half).

Endorsements: We are delighted to announce endorsements from the Washingotn State UU Voices for Justice and from Climate Action Bainbridge (formerly Coal Free Bainbridge). They join other endorsers like Olympic Climate Action, whose annual membership event is coming up Feb 8 in Port Angeles. Some of these groups have endorsed both CarbonWA and the governor’s effort and we think that’s terrific and are excited to pick up additional endorsements in the weeks ahead!

Events: I (Yoram Bauman) will be at the Earth Care Summit in Portland this weekend and am tentatively meeting folks in Vancouver WA this Sunday, so email me (yoram@carbonwa.org) if you want to join in! In Olympia, CarbonWA’s Akua Asare-Konadu and Thad Curtz will be presenting on Saturday Jan 31 as part of a Carbon Fee Forum co-sponsored by Olympia FOR’s Climate Group and Climate Solutions. And for folks in Bellingham, I know that CarbonWA’s Ben Silesky is planning a visit on T night Jan 27, so email him (ben@carbonwa.org) for details. As for Seattle, I have presentations on W Jan 28 (I’ll be doing my comedy-and-carbon-tax talk as part of Climate Week at the UU Church) and other talks in the weeks ahead at Seward Park Audubon and Pinchot University, plus the UW panel discussion I was part of last week was so successful that it’s going to be repeated at Town Hall on M March 16. Details on all our events here! And if you want to support Governor Inslee’s bill then there’s a hearing in Olympia on T Jan 27 at 1:30pm; details and more info from Climate Solutions or EPC.

As always comments welcome on the blog or via Facebook and Twitter.

Activists Confront Keystone XL Threat

May17AuburnWA03I recently joined hundreds of other activists on a video chat hosted by 350.org to discuss recent developments in the saga of the hotly debated and much delayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As you probably know by now, TransCanada wants to build the KXL pipeline to transport diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the tar sands of northern Alberta across the US Midwest heartland to the Gulf Coast for sale on the global oil market. TransCanada needs approval from the US State Department and President Obama to construct a pipeline across the US/Canada border. The approval process has been stalled for years due to persistent grassroots opposition and in recent months held up due to a lawsuit brought by landowners in Nebraska who successfully argued in lower courts that the planned route of the pipeline was illegally drawn and granted the builders improper use of eminent domain. While waiting for the Nebraska Supreme Court to decide whether to uphold the lower court’s decision, the permit for the pipeline’s path through South Dakota expired leaving the oil giant facing the dilemma of having no legal route for the pipeline while oil prices on the global market are plummeting cutting into their profit margin for a product that is the most expensive (and filthiest) fossil fuel to extract, transport and refine.

The most recent bit of political drama in this ongoing saga was played out in the lame duck Congress when Mary Landrieu, the embattled Democratic Senator from Louisiana, bet the catfish farm on a Hail Mary attempt to pass a bill that would have approved construction of the Keystone pipeline. The bill was defeated by a razor-thin margin of one vote, and Landrieu lost her seat in a December run-off to Republican challenger Bill Cassidy. 350.org credits this victory to citizen activists who made phone calls to fence-sitting senators as well as Occupy-style sit-ins at the offices of Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Michael Bennet of Colorado at which 350 DC activists were arrested.

KleebOrganizer for 350.org Duncan Meisel introduced Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska. Kleeb informed listeners that the Nebraska Supreme Court decision could come soon, and expressed the belief that whatever the Court decides, the outcome will be bad for TransCanada. If the lower court decision is upheld, there is no legal route for the pipeline through Nebraska, but even if they strike down the lower court, the lawsuit has shone a light on risks to the environment that reveal shortcomings and omissions in the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement which could solidify grassroots opposition and give Obama some political cover for a decision to reject the pipeline. One other possibility is that the Supreme Court could decide that the landowners do not have standing as plaintiffs and that could cause more delays and uncertainly in a legal process that has already held up the pipeline for several months. Kleeb is encouraged that President Obama has recently stated that building the pipeline poses catastrophic environmental risks while offering few jobs or other economic benefit and takes these statements as an indication that the President is poised to reject the pipeline outright if it lands on his desk, as seems likely to happen in the near future.

GoodtoothNext to speak was Dallas Goldtooth, Keystone XL Campaigner at the Indigenous Environmental Network. He described the situation in South Dakota where indigenous Lakota, Dakota and Sioux have strong legal and moral standing in opposing the re-permitting of the pipeline route through their lands. A hearing on January 6, 2015 could see TransCanada’s appeal to extend the permit dismissed on the grounds that the tribes were not properly consulted in the permitting process, a right that is established in federal law and the importance of which was recently cited in a speech by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. If the permit is not extended, a lengthy new feasibility study would be required, giving both native and non-native landowners the opportunity to make their voices and opposition to the tar sands projects heard. Goldtooth and Meisel stressed that tar sands extraction is a vicious process that lays waste to pristine boreal wilderness, endangers wildlife, and is also destructive to human health and society as well. The increase in violence against women near the “man camps” similar projects have already created is a serious problem that bears consideration in the approval process.

Sara Shor, 350.org Keystone XL Campaign Manager, pointed out that Mitch McConnell, who will be Senate Majority Leader in 2015, has pledged to bring up another vote to approve the Keystone XL. We can expect such a bill to be tied to must-pass legislation in the manner seen with partisan give-away riders that were attached to the so-called CRomnibus bill in early December. Any such action, in addition to events unfolding in Nebraska and South Dakota, could trigger calls for activists to participate in anti-KXL actions all across the country and at very short notice. The NoKXL Pledge of Resistance, for instance, is prepared to engage in broadly distributed acts of civil disobedience as soon as the decision lands on the President’s desk. Asked what would happen if, despite all the efforts to oppose the Keystone XL, President Obama does approve the pipeline, Shor replied, “All hell will break loose. This pipeline is not getting built.”

Emboldened by the success of efforts to defeat Mary Landrieu’s last minute legislative maneuvers, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline such as 350.org and their allies are confident that they have the know-how to handle whatever is thrown at them in the next 2 to 3 months, and they are calling on like-minded folks to join them and build their capacity for effective grassroots action. Visit any of the following websites for more information and to offer your support.

350.org – Stop Keystone XL Team: http://350.org/kxlteam

 

Bold Nebraska: http://boldnebraska.org

 

Indigenous Environmental Network: http://nokxldakota.org

 

NoKXL Pledge of Resistance: http://nokxl.org