Activists Confront Keystone XL Threat

May17AuburnWA03I recently joined hundreds of other activists on a video chat hosted by 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. 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 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, 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 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. – Stop Keystone XL Team:


Bold Nebraska:


Indigenous Environmental Network:


NoKXL Pledge of Resistance:

We're All Responsible for Climate Change

Every one of us in the Western world has contributed to climate change. – Bill McKibben, American environmentalist, author, and journalist

Recently, I organized a couple of events with the goal of showing people how their choices and actions can make a real difference in the effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. I hosted a movie about the Koch brothers at the Auburn library. Less than a week later, I went to Les Gove Park with a petition to the CEO of our regional power company urging them to stop using coal and to move us decisively in the direction of clean energy.

Charles and David Koch are heavily invested in fossil fuels. They own 1.1 million acres of land in Alberta, land that could be exploited for the extraction of tar sands bitumen, the dirtiest fossil fuel known. The Koch brothers would profit enormously from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and through such front groups as Americans for Prosperity, they spread lies and propaganda across the American heartland, promising lower gasoline prices and more jobs from this environmentally destructive project. The truth is, of course, that the jobs created would be few and temporary and the pipeline would pump more foreign oil onto the world market with the possibility of an upward effect on Midwestern gasoline prices where there is already a glut of domestic Bakken crude.

I am involved with the NoKXL Pledge of Resistance, a group dedicated to opposing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline has been delayed again and again over the last 5 years by the concerted efforts of groups like ours employing tactics ranging from email petitions to civil disobedience. Today the KXL pipeline has no legal route through either Nebraska (where the route has been challenged in a lawsuit) or South Dakota (where the permit has expired due to delays). These successful efforts show how regular people working together can oppose and win against extremes of wealth and entrenched political power.

Here in the Northwest, we face increasing train traffic as fossil fuel companies try to get land-locked deposits of coal and oil to markets in Asia. Burning coal anywhere in the world releases carbon into the atmosphere, carbon that was captured and placed into long-term storage millennia ago by natural processes. Rapidly undoing the work that took nature millions of years in just a few decades has resulted in a completely unprecedented and unnatural spike in global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. NOAA_DataCO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps the energy of the sun, warming the oceans, and changing the pattern of our climate so that now sudden and violent storms are becoming the norm. Storms and floods in one part of the world translate to intense heat and drought in others. Both extremes threaten agriculture, putting the global food supply at risk, at the same time human population is growing at an unsustainable rate.

Some of the damage and suffering caused by anthropogenic climate change cannot be prevented. But we can make changes in our daily lives that will make a difference and turn us as a society onto more sustainable paths. It’s that sense of urgency that got me out of my house to host these gatherings. I must have spoken to a couple of hundred people in just the past couple of weeks. Many are not ready for the change, but others are, and I take hope from that willingness to see that up to now, we in the Northwest have been lucky to escape the worst depredations of the climate crisis, but that does not lessen our responsibility to be a part of the solution, and to begin making our voices heard in the global effort to bring about an end to the era of unlimited burning of fossil fuels.

So what can we do? First, stop buying products made by Koch Industries. Vote with your dollars and your feet. If your bank funds mountain-top removal coal mining, take your money to a local credit union. If your investment company sells funds including stocks from companies like Exxon and Monsanto, find another broker who sells a greener, socially responsible fund. If your university or church has investments, urge them to divest from fossil fuels. Buy a more fuel efficient car, insulate and weatherize your home, plant a tree (plant ten trees!) and above all, when you have the opportunity to make a public comment on civic projects to build infrastructure for fossil fuel exports, make your voice heard loud and clear: No Coal Trains and No Exploding Oil Trains should be allowed passage through the Great Northwest.

While at the park on the 4th of July, gathering signatures for the Sierra Club petition, I saw older, uninterested passersby, parents with teens or young adult kids, move past our booth as quickly as possible. But it was the young people with them who hung back, saying, “Sure, I’ll sign” or “Tell me more.” That young people get this, more than anything else, gives me hope for the future. Sometimes the older folks would look at me askance and say, “I don’t buy all this liberal crap. I’m a conservative.” Well, I’d say, “SO AM I. I think we have a really great planet here, and since there aren’t any other nice planets in this general vicinity, I’d really like to keep THIS ONE in good operating order, thank you very much. Now that’s what I call conserving your resources!”

I did meet a smart young man who took issue with our petition to get Puget Sound Energy to stop buying power from coal-fired plants in Montana. He denied that climate change was even happening, much less that it is caused by humans. He claimed that solar and wind are not able to supply our power needs, and that we have to keep using fossil fuels because the industry employs so many people. We showed him evidence that investing money in building solar arrays or wind farms creates more jobs than investing similar amounts of money into extracting fossil fuels. We talked about the fact that companies externalize the costs of cleaning up pollution and treating human illnesses directly caused by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. I explained to him that the US has a policy of underselling coal leases on public lands, creating a hidden subsidy to coal companies, paid for by the American taxpayer, without their knowledge or consent, and that when the cost of coal includes fair prices for leasing public lands AND the cost to repair damage to the environment and public health, coal won’t be economically competitive with renewable forms of energy. On top of that, wind and solar ARE ready and able to supply the planet’s needs. Germany has seen days where as much as 75% of its power comes from solar generation. We can, too.

I don’t think I convinced the young man; but maybe I opened a crack of light into the dark bubble he’s living in. For the sake of his kids, I hope so.


–Originally published in the Auburn Reporter, July 25, 2014

Short Term Profits or Long Term Survival?

The science is in. Climate change is happening, and it is caused by human activity. Yet the oil and gas industries continue to use their immense cash reserves to fund the campaigns of politicians who are climate change deniers. There is a perfectly understandable reason for them doing so: it is profitable.

Bought-and-paid-for politicians granted exemptions to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to allow drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) ensuring enormous profits for extracting gas from a huge geological region of the Midwest called the Marcellus Shale. But when the National Academy of Sciences reports “geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers” nothing changes. The scientists are telling us that the gunk the oil companies are pumping deep into the Earth to crack the shale and release the gas is polluting the groundwater, but the gas companies don’t even have to disclose the list of chemicals they use. What we do know is in there (such as formaldehyde and benzene) are not things you would want in your baby’s formula. Cracking the shale also causes micro-quakes that could lead to a major seismic event. Oh, and keep lit matches away from your kitchen tap—it just might catch fire. (If you think I am exaggerating, watch the move Gasland.)

Keystone XL, anyone? How could it possibly make any sense to destroy whole landscapes in Canada then pipe the resulting sludge across one of the biggest and most important aquifers in the entire United States? Pipelines, oil rigs and tankers always spill; it is just a question of when and how much. All of this just to ship the oil to overseas markets. We’re not even talking about using the fuel here in the US.

King Coal is literally blowing up mountains to get at coal deposits. Studies show that people who live near these sites are suffering much higher rates of cancer and birth defects, yet the coal-fired congressional allies of the industry continue to deregulate, removing health and environmental protections in the law. Judges elected with money from the fossil fuel industry turn a blind eye when coal executives put increased production over worker safety. Twenty-nine miners died in a preventable explosion in April 2010.

How does all this affect us here in the Pacific Northwest? Well, now King Coal wants to strip mine the Powder River Basin in Montana, put the dirty coal onto trains, spewing toxic coal dust and diesel exhaust all across Washington State, including a long stretch through the 31st Legislative District, then put the millions of tons of the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all onto container ships and schlep it all the way to China. When they burn the coal in China, we’ll get the blowback in the form of more carbon in the atmosphere and mercury-laden soot carried to our shores via the jet stream.

The coal industry will make an obscene amount of money selling coal to China, but who will pay for the costs? Exposure to coal dust causes increased rates of asthma in children, as well as lung and heart disease in adults. We’ll lose salmon runs and discourage economic development at our ports. Traffic congestion will increase around busy rail crossings slowing commuters, commercial vehicles, and emergency responders alike. But these ‘external’ costs won’t be paid for by the coal companies. You and I will have to foot the bill.

If I am elected, I will oppose all efforts to build coal export terminals in Washington State. But more than that, I will work to change the perception that environmentalists are the cause of our economic problems. Far from it: ecological politics is based on the idea that if we retool our industries and lifestyle to a more just and sustainable model that relies on renewable energy sources, there will be an expansion of opportunity and an improvement in the quality of life that has not been seen since the 1950s and 60s. We can do this.

Remember, I am accepting campaign contributions only from individuals who live in Washington State. I will not accept contributions from any special interest organization, including corporations, PACs, unions, or non-profit groups. I won’t be owned by the out-of-state interests who want to pollute our air and water in the name of profit.

Brian L. Gunn
Candidate for State Representative, 31st District, Position 1

On Holding Down The Conversational Fort, Or, Jobs, Republicans, And Hooey

As the next Congressional fight over payroll tax extensions and unemployment benefits and pipelines gets set up in the next few weeks for either its final chapter or to be kicked down the road a bit farther, one or the other, you’re going to hear a lot from our Republican friends about how much they value work and workers; most especially, they’ll tell you, they value American jobs for American workers.

After all, they’ll say, creating American jobs is the most important thing of all.

But if we were to look back over just the last few months, some would tell us, we could quickly find examples of how Republicans promote ideas that don’t seem to value work or workers at all, much less American jobs.

Well as it turns out, “some” seem to be right; to illustrate one of those examples we’ll look back a month or two or three to a time some Republicans might wish was long, long, ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

A successful comedian usually becomes more megalomaniacal as the success barometer rises. Initial success might be achieved from stand-up but then the comedian envisions a sitcom, then Broadway, albums, extended tours, Europe, and then his or her own production company. These things are all fine. Don’t do dinner theater. Don’t open stuff, like shopping centers or bowling alleys. Don’t do fairs, especially if you follow the pig contest.

–From the book “How To Be A Stand-Up Comic”, by Richard Belzer

So…the House Republicans went and promoted and passed out their payroll tax cut plan, and within that plan was a demand that the Junkie XL Pipeline – sorry, that should be Keystone XL Pipeline – get special “expedited” approvals, despite the objections of those who are worried about their water supply, and we have to do this, right now, those same House Republicans tell us, in order to put more or less 6500 folks to work getting the thing built.

And as we mentioned above, this is because the House Republicans care about American jobs and American workers.

So…it may strike you as a bit odd that the exact same House Republicans sent to the Senate in September the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act” (HR 2587), which has only one purpose: it tells the National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) that if workers at a company decide to form a union, or the company even thinks a union might be coming, and the company, in retaliation, decides to move work from that plant – or, for that matter, decides to move the entire plant – then neither the NLRB nor the United States Courts shall have the authority to do anything about it.

All of this stems from an effort by Boeing to move work from Washington State to South Carolina in retaliation for union activity by the Puget Sound workforce; the NLRB has ruled that Boeing cannot move the work, and the Company and its friends in Congress have joined forces with other anti-Union Members of Congress to move this legislation.

Need a third-party expert opinion to help make sense of the NLRB’s involvement and remedies? Consider this comment from University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Ellen Dannin, via Dennis Kucinich:

The NLRB has decades of experience with cases of this sort, and the National Labor Relations Act is clear that employer actions like Boeing’s violate the law. If this were a murder case, it would be a case in which the police found a person saying : “I did it,” while standing over a fresh corpse with smoking gun in hand.

Decades of experience, did she say? Yes she did – and she was right. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB had the power to order remedies that include making companies “bring work back”, the relevant case being Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. v. Labor Board, 379 U.S. 203.

The 250 law professors who wrote a letter explaining why HR 2587 is such a bad idea point out that it’s not just about Boeing: companies will no longer have any reason to even bargain with unionized workers (or those who wish they were) before closing plants and moving work overseas, as they have to do now under the law; again, that’s because no one will have the power of enforcement in these cases anymore.

As you might imagine, that’s going to accelerate the departure of jobs overseas, and it won’t take very long to get to 6500, which makes all that Republican fussin’ and fightin’ and sanctimoneoussin’ about Keystone look a bit hollow, eh?

Let’s jump to the side track, as it were, and take a moment to talk about why the question of which Party controls Congress matters: HR 2587 was introduced into the House, and if the Democrats controlled the Chamber it would have died in Committee, and that would have been that…but they don’t, and it didn’t, so the bill made it to the House floor, where it passed with no Democratic “aye” votes and six Republicans voting “nay”.

Then it went to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Sometimes Frustrating) has a bit more power than a Speaker of the House to kill any bill before his Chamber, if he’s so inclined; in this case the bill sits on the Senate Legislative Calendar, and unless he says otherwise, that’s where it’ll stay. Of course if Mitch McConnell (R-Hates Obama With The Fire Of A Thousand Suns) were Majority Leader, he would have that bill on the Senate Floor in a heartbeat – and it would pass with a Republican majority, unless Democrats were willing to stand firm and filibuster the thing or the President was willing to use the veto pen, neither of which seems particularly certain.

A companion bill, S 1523, was introduced by Lindsey Graham; it was referred to Committee, possibly to never be seen again – which is also thanks to Harry Reid, with an assist from Tom Harkin, who is the relevant Chair.

At this point I was going to move on to the “what have we learned today” part of the deal, but before I do, I want to take a moment to show you just what kind of legislation our GOP friends will bring to the table, given the chance:

S 1720, the “Put All Your Crazy Eggs In One Basket Act” (not the real bill title, but close enough), was introduced by John McCain just before Halloween (it’s now on the Legislative Calendar, not doing much), and it’s a classic.

This one single bill calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment vote, a semi-flat income tax, repeals “ObamaCare”, repeals Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform), says you basically can’t sue for medical malpractice anymore, says that if Congress fails to approve any Federal Agency regulation in 90 days, it’s invalid, and then says no Agency can pass any regulation, of any kind, until unemployment hits 7.7%…and there’s a lot more besides, including, I kid you not, forbidding the EPA from regulating the discharge of pesticides into water.

So now let’s get to “what have we learned?”

How about this:

We are going to hear a lot over the next 60 days about how the GOP loves you, the American worker, but at the exact same time they are looking to…well…put all the crazy eggs in one basket, if they can get away with it, and at the same time they’re looking to make it easier and easier to send more jobs to more countries than ever before, even to the point of trying to tell courts and regulators that they can no longer enforce laws Republicans can’t get repealed.

As our GOP friends stand before you, these next couple months, professing their undying love, remind them of this conversation today, and HR 2587, and S 1720, McCain’s “Crazy Egg Basket” bill, and then ask them if they think the GOP really cares about American jobs, or if they’re just getting hustled by slightly-slicker versions of used-car dealership credit managers?

Then you lean in close, look ‘em in the eye, smile just a bit, and you say to ‘em: “And hey, while you’re here…what do I gotta do to get you into a slightly used 1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagontoday?”

Then you can both have a little laugh – while you take their money and run.