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Native Sun News: Keystone XL foes target Obama and Romney

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Protesters in Texas attempt to blockade TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline with a treetop sit-in begun Sept. 24. PHOTO COURTESY/ECOWATCH

Obama, Romney’s pro-Keystone XL stance challenged
Poor Bear joins Native-infused protest
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

DENVER — On the eve of the 2012 presidential election campaign’s first debate Oct. 3, indigenous people from across the United States gathered to raise concerns about threats to clean water in Indian country, calling on both major party candidates to withdraw their support for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL tar-sands crude-oil pipeline project and to honor treaty boundaries.

“I look at this pipeline as an 1,800-mile snake that’s going to bore itself into Mother Earth and start spitting black venom at our water, which our future generations are going to drink someday,” Vice President Tom Poor Bear of the Oglala Lakota Nation said at the gathering Oct. 2 on the steps of the Colorado state Capitol.

Incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed the permitting of the southern portion of the Canadian enterprise on March 22, while campaigning in the oil patch of Cushing, Okla., saying, “I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”

Former governor Mitt Romney, commenting on the Keystone XL in Pittsburgh May 4, said, “If I’m president, we’ll build it if I have to build it myself.”

However, Poor Bear said in Denver, the constituencies in those campaign whistle-stops would face threats from the project, just as would Native Americans elsewhere. “We have one mother, and that’s Mother Earth,” Poor Bear stated.

Neither Obama nor Romney addressed the issue in the campaign debate at the University of Denver. PBS NewsHour host and debate moderator Jim Lehrer didn’t raise the question, despite the indigenous gathering and ample lobbying from a national coalition including the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and League of Conservation Voters, to bring up the issue of climate change linked with the pipeline controversy.

Non-profit Earth Policy Institute President Lester Brown has called mining of Alberta, Canada’s tar sands for the pipeline “one of the gravest climate threats to a world already on the edge.” Others say they doubt that human activities impact global warming.

At the pre-debate gathering, local Native American students Amanda Williams and Sky Roosevelt-Morris presented statements elaborated by Oglala Lakota Oliver Red Cloud and by the Society to Preserve Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Treaties (S.P.I.R.I.T.).

In his statement, Red Cloud, whose great grandfather signed the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, cited specific provisions of the treaty that the United States would violate if it allows the pipeline construction.

“I hope that the candidates will hear my words and begin to understand what they have, so far, been overlooking,” his statement said. “The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is not just an environmental issue. It is an issue of sustainability and survival for native people. It is an issue of preserving and protecting what is sacred. And it is an issue of upholding the law by honoring the treaties.”

Last year about this time, Poor Bear publicly called attention to the Keystone XL pipeline issue during Obama’s Denver campaign speech. Since then, indigenous peoples up and down the route of the pipeline have been echoing the call for social and environmental justice he voiced, said Oglala Sioux Tribe legal counsel Jennifer Baker.

“The U.S. government has a long history of violating its own laws and policies when it comes to its treatment of Indian tribes,” Baker added. “As the proposed northern pipeline segment works its way through the administrative process, our next president will have an opportunity to redefine and restore the relationship of the United States with indigenous nations by finally living up to its legal obligations,” she said.

“Doing so requires adequately consulting affected tribes, understanding and enforcing the terms of the treaties and rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline,” she said.

The threat of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline still looms, holding the future of the Mni Wiconi water line and the Ogallala Aquifer in the balance, Baker said.

The Mni Wiconi is the source of drinking water for much of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. The Ogallala Aquifer provides one-third of the irrigation water in the United States and drinking water for people in eight states.

TransCanada Corp.’s personnel vow that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever. However, the company’s Keystone I tar-sands pipeline has spilled at least 14 times since it started operating in June 2010. Just one spill released 21,000 gallons of tar-sands crude and toxic brine. In 2010, a similar pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge, spilled more than 1 million gallons of the toxic slurry into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, demanding an ongoing cleanup.

The Obama administration has twice denied TransCanada Corp.’s presidential permit application to build the entire proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline across six Great Plains states from Canada’s tar-sands oil fields to Texas refineries and export markets. The administration determined that the proposal is not in the national interest until afforded further consideration.

In order to proceed apace, TransCanada Corp. decided to apply for permits for the northern and southern segments of the pipeline separately and avoid seeking the presidential permit to cross the U.S.-Canada border for the time being.

S.P.I.R.I.T.’s statement opposing the pipeline accompanied a pledge to “join with likeminded groups from this date forward to stop the pipeline.”

Renewable energy advocate Tom Weis of Boulder, Colo., who has ridden his bicycle the length of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, took part in the Denver event.

Presidential candidates “need to understand we’re not going to stand for this pipeline,” he said. “They need to hear that message loud and clear, and we’re going to start delivering it today.”

Participants then accompanied Weis on his bicycle to deliver copies of “The Keystone XL Open Letter” to the Denver campaign offices of Obama and Romney.

Excerpts from the letter include the following:

“We call on you to withdraw your support for this project in light of the overwhelming evidence, available to both of you, that Keystone XL threatens America’s economy, public health, and national security. “You both know about the poor safety record of Canadian pipeline companies and the economic danger Keystone XL poses to our nation’s food and water supplies.

“You have been informed by 20 prominent scientists – including one of the nation’s top climate experts, Dr. James Hansen – that Keystone XL ‘would practically guarantee extensive exploitation’ of Canada’s tar sands, which ‘on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control.’

“The facts show that Keystone XL:
• Risks destroying more jobs than it creates;
• Portends higher, not lower, gas prices for the Midwest and Rockies;
• Functions as an export pipeline for Canada to sell its oil to foreign markets;
• Threatens to further poison the air of people living near tar sands oil refineries;
• Violates tribal sovereignty and tramples on private property rights of U.S. citizens, and
• Endangers the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which supplies water to more than 10 million Texans.

“Keystone XL violates so many core American values, it can only be described as un-American. It is time to stop playing politics with American lives and treasure and stand up to energy giant TransCanada. Failure to confront this foreign corporation seeking to enrich itself at our expense is a failure to defend America,” the letter charges.

It calls on the candidates to: “Believe in America!” and says, “America’s path to prosperity lies in the rapid transition to abundant homegrown renewable energy and appropriate biofuel resources to power our homes, businesses, and vehicles – not in facilitating pipelines transporting the most destructive oil on earth.

“Keystone XL represents a retreat from the green economy, which already employs 2.7 million workers (more than the fossil fuel industry). Embrace instead a U.S.-led green industrial revolution that will move our economy forward, create millions of new jobs, and help ensure a livable planet for future generations,” it concludes. Fossil fuel advocates agree with the transition to renewable energies but counter that every possible source of energy will be necessary to meet projected growing demands during the next presidential administration. The $7 million private foreign investment in the Keystone XL pipeline construction would create thousands of temporary jobs, but the actual number is highly disputed.

Among the signers of the letter was Hollywood actress Daryl Hannah, who joined Weis and Lakota activists, as well as non-Indian South Dakota ranchers, on the Pine Ridge Reservation during his 2011 Ride for Renewables.

Hannah was arrested along with Oglala Lakota pipeline activist Debra White Plume and hundreds of other demonstrators earlier last year at a tar-sands protest on the White House lawn. She was again arrested in Texas this Oct. 4, while allegedly standing in the way of heavy equipment to protest building the Keystone XL pipeline across private land near Winnsboro, 100 miles east of Dallas.

Also in northeastern Texas, members of the Tar Sands Blockade have held Keystone XL pipeline construction crews at bay for two weeks since eight protesters climbed into trees to stop clear-cutting for the proposed route. Suspended 80 feet high, the dissidents swore not to come down until the pipeline project is canceled.

“Today I climbed a tree in the path of Keystone XL to demand TransCanada stop construction of this dirty and dangerous pipeline,” said Mary Washington, one of the blockade members sitting in a tree.This pipeline is a disaster for everyone it touches, from the cancer tar-sands extraction is causing indigenous communities to the water poisoned by inevitable tar-sands spills to the landowners whose land has been seized and to everyone that will be affected by climate change,” she said.

Several people have been arrested in the protest, prompting letters of support from 30 groups across the United States and abroad, among them the Indigenous Environmental Network, whose executive director, Tom Goldtooth, also signed the open letter delivered to presidential candidates.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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