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Outrage over the Obama administration’s fast-tracking of Keystone XL bubbles over

Posted Jun. 27, 2012 / Posted by: Prashanth Kamalakanthan

A short piece appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday, quietly noting that one of the three regional Army Corps of Engineers offices reviewing TransCanada’s federal permit application to build the Keystone XL pipeline through Oklahoma and Texas had rubber-stamped the southernmost section through Texas the day before.

On the afternoon that the Times piece ran, concerned Texans -- slated to neighbor this portion of the pipeline -- packed a state oil and gas hearing, outraged about the risks to their drinking water, land and public health that tar sands oil pipelines would bring. In a press conference after the hearing, Battle Creek, Michigan resident Michelle Barlond-Smith amplified their concerns, bearing witness to the continuing effects of the devastating July 2010 tar sands oil spill into the Kalamazoo River from a ruptured Enbridge pipeline. Barlond-Smith was there when the spill poisoned her neighbors and made ghost towns out of several Michigan communities. Activists in Oklahoma, meanwhile, held a citizens’ “public hearing” in Tulsa today to protest the Army Corps’ stonewalling of their concerns and requests for basic information about the approval process.

Ordinary citizens are rising up around the country to break through the opaque cloak of silence in which federal regulators have shrouded the southern leg of Keystone XL. People are growing increasingly alarmed that such an expansive and risky project -- one that could devastate major rivers in Oklahoma and Texas and contaminate aquifers like the Carrizo-Wilcox, which provides drinking water to more than 10 million Texans -- ­has been blocked from any semblance of public scrutiny and transparent review.

“President Obama abandoned Texans and Oklahomans to the whims of Big Oil and an Army Corps that appears only too willing to serve them,” says Kim Huynh, our dirty fuels campaigner. “The Army Corps has shown a willful disregard for the concerns of residents whose health, land and livelihoods are at stake if Keystone XL is rubber-stamped, which is why we’re urging Administrator Lisa Jackson to step in and call for a full environmental review.”

D.C. activists gather in front of the EPA headquarters

Activists gathered in front of the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to deliver more than 117,000 signatures from Friends of the Earth and CREDO Action supporters across the nation amplifying this demand for action. Wielding signs showing Keystone XL’s potentially disastrous impacts and a giant rubber stamp for TransCanada’s application to harm the environment and surrounding communities, protesters emphasized the importance of the EPA’s intervention.

“Lisa Jackson has been the one leader in the Obama Administration most willing to stand up to polluters and we're depending on her to be a hero once again. The EPA must take action to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from selling us out to TransCanada and ensuring certain disaster for the environment and our public health,” said Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager for CREDO Action, in the news release.

After splitting its Keystone XL project into two parts earlier this year, TransCanada quietly applied to the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency notorious for its lax environmental oversight, for a catch-all Nationwide Permit 12 for the southern leg of the pipeline, exploiting a weak oversight process that would grant blanket approval for hundreds of pipeline water crossings in Oklahoma and Texas without any environmental impacts review or public input. In doing so, the company knowingly flouted EPA Region VI Associate Director Dr. Jane Watson’s recommendation in November 2011 to reject a blanket water permit for the southern segment of Keystone XL.

The complacency of federal regulators in Keystone XL’s fast-tracked approval process -- combined with TransCanada’s deviousness and secrecy -- has stoked outrage among landowners and activists. Indignation at TransCanada’s thinly veiled attempts to circumvent a transparent, rigorous review process and the Army Corps’ willingness to facilitate a rubber stamp for the pipeline permits might partially explain why nearly 1,000 Friends of the Earth activists called the EPA yesterday, urging Administrator Lisa Jackson to intervene in the Army Corps’ rubber-stamping of the pipeline.

Administrator Jackson’s office was overwhelmed by the response. Citing the flood of calls it received, the Administrator’s office telephones temporarily went offline as they scrambled to absorb the immense response from concerned citizens urging the EPA to take action.

DC activists gather in front of the EPA

“EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has stood her ground on numerous environmentally threatening lawsuits brought on by the State of Texas against the EPA, and in those situations, the EPA succeeded,” said Juan Parras, director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS). “If in fact, Environmental Justice is a priority for this Administration, as it has made us believe, then the obvious thing to do is to carry out the mandates of the Clean Water Act for the sake of making sure we all have safe drinking water.”

Keystone XL’s southern leg would provide the tar sands oil industry a crucial link from the oil-rich Midwest to the lucrative export shipping and refinery operations of the Gulf Coast. A boon for oil industry profits, the pipeline poses serious threats to the U.S. heartland, expanding climate-destabilizing and spill-prone tar sands oil development, ­while increasing air pollution among already sullied Gulf Coast refinery communities.

Determined to stop Big Oil’s pet project, Texas activists with the Tar Sands Blockade are already organizing nonviolent direct action tactics against Keystone XL’s export leg should construction begin this summer. At the moment, the struggle over Keystone XL is pitting concerned citizens and environmental activists against fossil fuel corporations and federal regulators -- but it doesn’t have to be that way. This fight is an opportunity for politicians and regulators to start serving their constituencies, communities and ecosystems, instead of oil industry profits.

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