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How Congress Made Environmentalists Public Enemy #1

After Keystone XL Pipeline legislation was narrowly defeated in Congress, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), incoming Senate Majority Leader, promised to pass the bill in January when Republicans take control of the Senate. They already control the House of Representatives. Although the life of the Keystone Pipeline is in the hands of President Obama, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), lead sponsor of the bill, has acknowledged the Senate may tie the bill to a larger energy package, thus forcing the President’s hand in their favor.

According to Carbon Tracker Initiative, the State Department’s environmental assessment of the Keystone project is dangerously understating “both economic and environmental exposures.” It also states that any price per barrel “uplift will be eroded by pipeline costs and diluent expenses to around $5.5/barrel, leaving only a few dollars margin to absorb any other factors, including production cost increases, carbon offset costs, and any future price discounts.” A dismal and high-risk investment for both U.S. and Canada.

The State Department’s report concluded that there would be no significant economic impact on the U.S., meaning U.S. citizens will not see any savings at the gas pump nor will it grant us energy independence, by oil or dollar. In fact, more money will be given to more oil companies. For example, U.S. taxpayers will be paying one oil producer, Motiva, up to $1 billion in fuel subsidies to increase their tar sands oil technology. That’s just to one company. Only the rich will be getting richer

By comparison, TransCanada would not be making any of the affected landowners into millionaires. In fact, just ask Julia Trigg Crawford of Direct, Texas, how she felt when TransCanada condemned her property, then built their pipeline on it against her wishes. In the CNBC article, “The other Keystone fight: US landowners vs. Canada oil giant”, Adam Molon writes how Trigg Crawford feared for the water, the land, and the 145 Caddo Indian burial artifacts found during an archeological study. Any other possible artifacts were destroyed in the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. TransCanada, a Canadian company, was allowed to seize United States land through strong-arm tactics and under the banner of eminent domain. One can imagine as the 1,700 miles of Canadian flags swath through the U.S. heartland, that they are mockingly waving a reminder of Canada’s ability to literally dissect this country in two.

The Keystone jobs bill, as it is trumpeted, will be exactly that for 50 lucky people. The rest of the thousands of jobs created will only last as long as it takes to lay pipe. Part of the pipeline will run over and through part of the Oglala Aquifer, the largest source of fresh water for the Great Plains. A leak would devastate this sensitive and critical source of water for 2 million people and 13 million acres of land. The Keystone Pipeline WILL LEAK. It has already, many times. If you don’t think water is important then ask any Californian under drought restrictions. Ask the poor in Detroit as that city shuts off their taps for late payments, but leaves it on for the golf courses and sports complexes owing hundreds of thousands. Ask the farmers and ranchers who grow your food. Watch how valuable water becomes when you don’t have it anymore.

Canada doesn’t want the pipeline on their land. Indigenous communities have been forced off their lands and rates of rare cancers have dramatically increased for those living downstream of tailing ponds. One community of 1,200 lost 100 of its residents to cancer. The Boreal forests of Alberta are an important source of food and water, but because tar sands oil lies beneath, they are being destroyed. How much more concerned would TransCanada be about our sources of food and water when they don’t even try to protect their own? They are asking us to shoulder all the risk but reap no reward. TransCanada is the threat.

Enslaved politicians, dirty corporations, and Koch-ish billionaires, these scions of greed, have been able to manipulate the game. They ignore scientific fact and chase money to no end. They paint “logic” and “fairness” as unpatriotic. Anyone standing for a reasonable approach to sustainable energy is quickly labeled an environmentalist, as if it were a dirty word. Much like political correctness became the expletive for kindness. A popular saying in these parts is “Ban mining…let the bastards freeze in the dark.” Consideration of any alternative energy source is a threat to those who have limited knowledge on the subject or lack the moral imperative to keep the environment clean for others.

So why are politicians on both sides of the aisle and proponents of the Keystone Pipeline playing fast and loose with our environment, our national security? Yes, clean sources of water and land are fragile and irreplaceable and need to be fiercely protected far more than a source of fuel for the cars of some overseas country. They are fighting for this Pipeline, this dangerous and short-sighted addiction to fossil fuel, with the same veracity as a heroin addict defending their stash. Do they have the competence, altruism, and valor necessary to act on Earth’s benefit, to speak for us all?

We should all be environmentalists by the sheer fact that our lives depend upon the health of this planet. We all need clean air, fresh water, and food grown in uncontaminated soil in order to survive. That is an unmovable truth. Why then do some act as if they don’t, prioritizing personal wealth and profit over our future, your future?

Our obligation to the Earth as well as to each other should not be demonized, but lionized, and at the very least recognized. Our coexistence includes the Earth and all those forces that work to our preservation; stop acting like it doesn’t, stop acting like it is not important, stop acting like you are exempt.

As a daughter of both the Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux Tribes, and like everyone born on this earth, I am a citizen of this earth. If the Keystone Pipeline bill is passed, or any other position putting the environment at risk by any individual, corporation, or nation, it becomes an act of war against this earth and all her inhabitants. Like the soldiers who defend this country and her freedoms, we must defend Mother Earth. It is EVERYONE’S responsibility. Take up your positions because we die if we don’t.

Crystal Willcuts, Mnicoujou Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, was born in Rapid City, South Dakota and is an artist, writer, and poet currently residing in Big Stone Gap, Virginia with her husband and two children.