Industry Giveaway Bill Seeks to Gut Public Review of Dangerous Pipeline Projects

Now that Congress is done shuttering our National Parks and needlessly putting the world economy at risk, it’s time for them to turn to another of their favorite pastimes – trying to deny citizens the right to participate in reviewing projects that could poison their water supplies, cause more devastating extreme weather events, and lead to countless wildlife casualties.

Michigan Representative Fred Upton introduced the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, which – if passed – would create a near rubber stamp approval process for massive tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL and deny public participation.  It would also do away totally with federal review of reversal or expansion projects, such as the likely tar sands reversal of the Exxon-owned Portland-Montreal Pipe Line in northern New England and the proposed expansion of the Alberta Clipper line which would about double the amount of tar sands flowing through the Great Lakes region.

An old oil pipeline in Winnipeg near the  Assiniboine River. Flickr photo by Joel Penner.
An old oil pipeline in Winnipeg near the Assiniboine River. Flickr photo by Joel Penner.
This bill is another attack on America’s bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act – better known as NEPA.  NEPA requires federal agencies to take a hard at the environmental impacts of major projects – like tar sands pipelines – and, most importantly, give the public a chance to learn about those impacts and weigh in with concerns before they are forced to bear the risks.

In the sum, this bill would:

  • Require projects that import or export oil, gas or electricity across the Canadian or Mexican borders to be approved within 120 days unless the relevant official determines that the project “is not in the national security interests” of the U.S.
  • Exempt the projects from NEPA, wiping out longstanding requirements that agencies determine whether such projects are needed and that provide the public with the right to comment and review alternatives.
  • Eliminate pre-project reviews to determine if a project is actually in our national interest.
  • Exempt from permitting and review major changes – like reversal or expansion – of existing pipelines.

The need for thorough public review of pipeline projects is even more important now that pressure is being exerted to pump dirty, toxic tar sands through new and existing pipelines.  The impacts of tar sands are immense:

  • Tar sands is at least 17% more carbon pollution intensive than regular oil, meaning increased use will accelerate, rather than reverse, the climate disruption that is already wreaking havoc on our planet.
  • As the tragic incidents impacting the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and Mayflower, AR have shown, tar sands is extremely destructive and nearly impossible to clean up when it spills.
  • Allowing more tar sands into the United States spurs further destruction of critical boreal forest habitat and could lead to the loss of up to 72 million migratory bird births, striking at the heart of the U.S. and Canada’s shared wildlife heritage.
  • Much of the oil will be exported and actually drive up costs for consumers.  With domestic oil production up 44% and oil use down, we don’t need the risks of foreign tar sands.

On Tuesday, Vermont’s Department of Environmental Commissioner David Mears and pipeline expert and attorney Paul Blackburn are testifying before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power on why gutting review of major pipeline projects is a bad idea.

It should not be lost on people that tomorrow’s hearing is on the anniversary of Superstorm SandyThis is a day when we should be reflecting on the costs of carbon pollution, and the need to make smarter, more informed energy choices.  It is a good day to reject a bill that seeks a massive giveaway to the fossil fuel industry and aims to rips the public out of the decision-making process for dangerous and dirty pipelines.

Take Action ButtonTell President Obama to deny the Keystone XL pipeline here.