State Republicans are trying once again to send a message to Washington, D.C., to encourage the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But opponents are ever more concerned about resulting contributions to climate change and environmental degradation.
On Monday, the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee heard yet another round of testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 10 sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, and backed by 25 other Republican senators. Many of the same proponents and opponents already testified for the Senate committee before the bill passed on a party-line 8-5 vote and passed the Senate 39-11.
In asking for prompt Congressional and presidential approval of the pipeline, SJ10 uses language almost identical to HJ11 passed in 2015. The bill points out that the pipeline would generate $63 million in annual property tax revenue and that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has already granted a certificate of compliance.
“There are risks to everything,” Lang told the committee. “But with the DEQ giving a certificate of compliance, I’m assuming that they’re OK with this thing.”
Beginning at Port of Morgan on the northern border of Phillips County, the Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from western Alberta’s oil sands across Phillips, Valley, McCone, Dawson and Fallon counties on its way to Steele City, Neb. and on down to Houston, Texas. Along the way, it would cross under the Missouri River below the Fort Peck Dam and under the Yellowstone River.
For the most part, proponents were mainly industry representatives, including the Montana Petroleum Association and the Montana Contractors Association. Representatives of eastern Montana counties showed up to say how much they needed the tax revenue and spokeswoman Nicole Rolf said the members of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation wanted it so they wouldn’t bear the brunt of being the tax base.
Spokesmen from Montana-Dakota Utilities and the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association said they’d benefit from selling energy to keep the oil pumping through the pipeline.
Finally, spokesman Chris Cavazos said the Montana AFL-CIO favored the bill because even though TransCanada is building the pipeline, the jobs, although temporary, would be union jobs. When a committee member asked how many jobs the pipeline would provide, Cavazos said he didn’t know.
The bill’s two opponents said they weren’t anti-jobs. It’s just that the pipeline poses too many threats to justify the few temporary positions that would come with it.
Montana Audubon spokesman Dan Roper rattled off several reasons why his and other environmental groups oppose tar-sands oil.
Tar sands, a mucky mass of soil and oil, produce the dirtiest oil in the world and must be basically strip-mined out of the boreal forest of Alberta rather than pumped from oil fields. The mining of tar sands is destroying the boreal forest habitat, which will affect many animals including half of all North American migratory bird species that nest there.
In addition, a U.S. State Department report predicts that the Keystone XL will have almost 2 spills every year, and if they’re anything like the first Keystone spill that occurred in Michigan in 2010, they’ll be not only destructive but also expensive. After 850,000 gallons spilled into the Kalamazoo River, the resulting cleanup cost more than $1 billion.
Montana is no stranger to pipeline spills after two have recently polluted the Yellowstone River: one near Billings in 2011 and one near Glendive in 2015. Because the Keystone pipeline will pass beneath the Yellowstone and the Missouri rivers, the Yellowstone might suffer another spill.
“The pipeline means jobs, albeit mostly short-term construction jobs and a revenue stream for rural counties that certainly could use them,” Roper said. “But we accept the scientific consensus and real world evidence that our climate is changing, due in part to human activities. And climate change threatens our wildlife, farmers and ranchers and our economy.”
Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center said it was impossible to transport oil in a safe manner. Trains may have more accidents, but the resulting spills are small and are dealt with almost immediately. The problem with pipelines is the spills are always larger because a leak often exists for days without anyone knowing.
That’s why many tribal governments oppose pipelines such as the Keystone or Dakota Access. In Montana, the leaders of the Fort Peck Reservation oppose the location of the Keystone pipeline for the same reason the Standing Rock Sioux oppose the Dakota Access: they are routed beneath the Missouri River at points where the tribes get their drinking water. A spill could cost them a lot if they had to obtain safe water from elsewhere.
“It threatens their water facility. Giving the power of eminent domain to a foreign corporation seems misguided at best,” Hedges said. Hedges was referring to TransCanada, which is a Canadian company.
While questioning Hedges, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, said the resolution had nothing to do with strip-mining in Alberta.
“The environmental damage isn’t occurring in Montana so that’s for Canada to worry about,” Skees said.
However, the resulting climate change effects are for the world to worry about because tar sands oil, as dirty as it is, adds 20 to 30 percent more carbon to the atmosphere. Carbon is a greenhouse gas, which traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, so the production of tar-sands oil would to farther toward accelerating the effects of climate change.
Climate change is already intensifying worldwide. This winter, the Arctic has experienced daily temperatures 50 degrees above normal while cities in Oklahoma and Colorado have smashed record high temperatures. The snowpack in California's Sierra-Nevada Mountains is at record levels after years of drought while a current drought in Somolia, Africa, is causing hundreds to die. Ocean temperatures are rising as is sea level, causing coastal towns like Miami to suffer repeated flooding.
But the Keystone XL Pipeline could eventually be constructed even without SJ10. On Jan. 24, Pres. Donald Trump signed an executive order reviving the Keystone project and invited TransCanada to resubmit its application. The company did so two days later. That reversed an Obama Administration decision to halt the pipeline in 2015 because of the threat to climate change.
The House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee will vote on SJ10 on Wednesday.