After six days and 322 arrests (and counting), the Tar Sands Action is in full effect. This two-week long protest is being staged on the sidewalk in front of the White House in Washington, DC, plainly visible to government employees, diplomats and tourists alike. Concerned citizens have travelled from all 50 states and Canada to send a direct message to President Obama and the U.S. State Department: Stop the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. The tar sands extraction process requires massive amounts of energy and water, and results in about three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil. In his Washington Post op-ed, Bill McKibben provides more information on the pipeline and its environmental impacts, and describes why this act of civil disobedience is so critical.
In May, the Center for International Environmental Law and other environmental and ethics groups filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the State Department, challenging the agency’s refusal to disclose information related to the Keystone XL pipeline. This complaint follows up on our December 2010 request for communication records between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and TransCanada’s chief Washington lobbyist (who also happens to be a former deputy director of Clinton’s presidential campaign). We requested the records—and brought the lawsuit—to ensure that the State Department’s permitting decisions on TransCanada are based on accurate environmental impact assessments and not on political connections.
Even as we work to wean the United States from its dependence on oil, we’re also tackling the environmental and health threats from other fossil fuels, including coal. While the Sierra Club and others are taking on coal at the national level, CIEL is engaged in international efforts to eliminate the use of coal and other fossil fuels and to promote international financing of clean energy sources. We are working to get coal out of the carbon markets, specifically by monitoring proposed projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a carbon offsetting system designed to lower developed countries’ costs of reducing greenhouse gases by allowing them to purchase “carbon credits” that fund supposedly low-carbon projects in developing countries. Carbon credits are currently being awarded for new coal power projects, which is ironic considering that the CDM is supposed to promote sustainable development and coal-based energy production is far from sustainable.
We are also pressuring international finance institutions to phase out funding for coal and other fossil fuels and to increase funding for low carbon, clean energy sources. In March, CIEL released a report criticizing the World Bank’s loan to support a new 4,800 MW coal-fired power plant in South Africa called the Eskom Project. Our analysis showed that the Bank didn’t properly consider the human health and environmental costs associated with coal, a recurring problem that results in over-investment in coal. Having failed to learn lessons from the Eskom Project, the World Bank is now proposing to support construction of a new 600-MW lignite-fired power plant in Kosovo.
Regardless of the strategies environmentalists use, many of us share the same objective: to make a large-scale shift from carbon-intensive to low or zero-carbon sources of energy. A recent report by the IPCC states that close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right policies. We hope President Obama will fulfill his campaign promise and commitment to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels: “Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil…”
President Obama, on behalf of future generations, you must say no to the Keystone XL pipeline.