Pipeline plan fueling discontent

In case you were worried about our representation in Washington, rest assured: this area is well represented.

I found proof of this during a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in April. Conspicuously displayed in a case that was part of a Depression-era village life exhibit were two packets of seeds from the “Card Seed Co., Fredonia, N.Y.” Resisting the impulse to call other visitors’ attention to this display, I channeled my swelling of hometown pride into my camera, expressing with a photograph the idea that our little town is important enough to occupy a place in America’s history museum.

Isn’t that also the sense we develop of ourselves as Americans, that our individual lives and our discrete voices matter?

Coincidentally, this very idea was playing out that day across from the history museum, in the National Mall. In a display of First Amendment rights on what D.C. tour guides call “America’s front lawn,” opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline were setting up tipis and covered wagons. These props were situated in full view of the Capitol building and television cameras to call attention to this unlikely alliance of ranchers, farmers, and indigenous peoples united in opposition to the pipeline.

This ad hoc alliance opposes TransCanada’s attempt to install the pipeline across a huge chunk of the American West from Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. There is an educational benefit of the protest, as curious passersby discovered in its environmental and economic aspects.

In a way, the protesters represent individual Americans as profoundly as do our elected officials. “Cowboys” and “Indians” alike oppose the likely pollution of western aquifers. From their place on our collective front lawn, the protesters dispute TransCanada’s claims of pipeline safety; in truth, the chemicals used to extract oil sands will probably pollute the water supply, and the oil itself is abrasive and likely to corrode the structural integrity of the pipeline over time.

Ranchers represent the time-honored American value of property ownership. They oppose the notion that a private company – TransCanada, in this case – can seize their land with a claim of eminent domain. Nebraska farmers and ranchers have already struggled to hold on to their property. Native peoples who depend on the quality of the land are trying to thwart the contamination of surface water that will destroy drinking water and their fishing economy. Together, these allied groups represent all of us who seek a clean future, clean energy supplies, and land that sustains our well being.

There were thousands of visitors on the National Mall the day the protesters established their presence. Many of them, including me, consumed a few gallons of gas to get to Washington. Since last September, public opinion polls by Gallup, Pew, and Rasmussen have shown supporters of the pipeline outnumbering opponents two-to-one. But when the likely spike in oil prices results from the pipeline, will there still be so much support?

TransCanada itself acknowledges the pipeline will cause a $6 per barrel increase, at least, in the price of crude oil for the Midwest market and an overall United States increase of $2 billion to 4 billion a year. This upward pressure on domestic prices is a natural outcome of processing oil through the major refineries of the Gulf only to export it. There is a reasonable perception that TransCanada views the United States as a conduit, not a market.

What of the fabled job creation? While TransCanada touts the figure of half a million permanent new jobs, reports by elected representatives, Congressional committees, and university studies offer skimpier predictions. Michigan Republican Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, cited a figure of 100,000 in 2011. In his Presidential campaign, Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah offered the same figure. Last year, an environmental impact statement by the Department of State predicted 42,000 to 84,000 temporary job gains; the prognosis for permanent jobs was an unimpressive 35. A Cornell University study in 2011 forecast a slightly more generous but equally absurd 50 permanent new jobs.

Elected representatives are fond of touting clean energy solutions to looming energy supply problems. Add to “clean” the parameters “efficient” and “economical” and most Americans agree. Objections to the pipeline cast doubt over its ability to honor any of these parameters.

There is a wholesome and universally beloved quality of seeds. Thanks to the issues brought to light by protesters and studies from varied factions, the same cannot be said with certainty about a proposal fraught with dangerous outcomes.

It is wise to pay attention to things that sprout on America’s front lawn.

Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com