11.11.2011

OBAMA'S WEAK KEYSTONE DECISION--AND WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED ABOUT ACTIVISM

Environmentalists are playing hardball, and the President is playing dodgeball.

Why is it that I don't feel like cheering over Obama's decision to delay deciding the fate of the Keystone pipeline? He has sent it back for a reroute, which (presumably) will take long enough that the matter will not come up again until after next year's elections.

This is a decision not to decide.

And it could leave the matter in the hands of a Republican President who has run on Pro-Pollution Principles (that would be P-P-P for all you 9-9-9 lovers).

This gives me no comfort.

Much has been made about how Keystone would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but according to presentations to Keystone investors, the plan is (almost said was, but no reason to lay it to rest yet) for Gulf Coast refiners to prepare the filthy oil for export to Europe and Latin America--and proceeds are earned tax-free.

This is a double insult to the idea of energy independence--which we should attain, but by developing clean, sustainable wind and sun, and cleaning up and carefully regulating the process by which we harvest gas, as a transition energy; gas can be worse than coal if not properly controlled. These new energy sources would create many jobs.

So I don't think it is time to declare victory yet. But there is something to cheer wildly about in the Keystone Saga. It is proof that activism matters. We haven't seen highly organized, impassioned demonstrations like what Bill McKibben and his team pulled off in many long years.

Demonstrations work.

Political engagement works.

Because of Bill McKibben's hard work, what was a done deal has been temporarily done in. That's something to cheer!

And in these days of extremist politics, in which polluter interests and denial of science far outweighs the protection of our health--and the stability of our climate--there is only one way for regular folks to make a difference. Exercising citizenship.

In a smaller way--but enormous to the citizens of the small town of Townawanda, New York--people took extraordinary control of addressing a local air pollution problem, and made their voices heard. Regulators failed, year after year, to address benzene and other carcinogens spewing from the local coke plant, where material needed for smelting iron was produced. Last night, as I was driving home, I heard a report on the radio about how residents, frustrated by the inattention of regulators, started collecting their own air samples with vacuum cleaners and buckets. Ultimately, regulators found that Townawanda Coke was spewing 30 times more benzene into the air than they had reported. Again, an inspiring--and profoundly upsetting--story of citizen action.

One thing comes through loud and clear: Whether you march publicly, or write letters and sign petitions privately--your individual voice, joined with others, does matter.

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