A Political Game: The Keystone XL Debate

I just wrote this op-ed for Next Gen Journal, an news and opinion website run by college students from around the country. Hope you enjoy!

I am disillusioned with the current political process. My first political memory is  Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Then eight years of George W. Bush. I was first inspired by politics when Barack Obama was elected. I had faith in our system. But recent stalemates in Congress and the lack of effective environmental legislation has got me down again. Obama’s recent decision to delay the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is promising, but it is not the “win” that some environmentalists claimed. So how can environmentalists find hope? How can we keep fighting for conservation if these overriding political forces seem to thwart every move? We must take part in the political game.

Three words have defined the past few months for environmentalists: stop the pipeline.  This refers to the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,600 mile-long metal tube that will extract tar sands from a deposit in Canada and send it  down to the Gulf. The project presents a long list of environmental dangers. It will cross over 70 rivers, threaten ecosystems, pollute water sources, emit 1.15 billion tons of CO2, likely cause multiple oil spills, and carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day. On November 6, thousands of pipeline protestors surrounded the White House to show President Obama that citizens care about developing  clean energy. He heard their voices and decided to delay approval of the project.

The delay means that further environmental and health impact assessments will be conducted. Environmentalists’ initial reaction was that this process will most likely end in a mess of red tape, killing the proposal. Yet on Wednesday, TransCanada–the company building Keystone XL–decided to reroute the pipeline so it will avoid the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest freshwater deposits. This a victory for environmentalists and Mother Earth. But half of the pipeline will still be built and carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day. Yes, Obama did delay the decision. But the pipeline was not rejected. It was merely re-routed. It will still have an enormous environmental impact.

Environmentalists must focus on making what is “green” appealing as fossil-fuel alternatives in order to ensure a definite turn away from fossil fuels. One of the most important ways this can happen is if green options on are on the same level as oil, coal, and natural gas. The price of solar energy must be the same price as coal, for example. Otherwise renewables are not economically feasible.

Only with government action can renewable technologies compete with oil. Washington must invest in renewable energy by subsidizing its development and distribution, with green incentives a crucial part of the process. Then renewables will become appealing, affordable alternatives. China implemented a similar strategy last year, and it was successful.

This is not a simple process, but it is what needs to happen next in order to secure true environmental protection. And this is where environmentalists should focus their attention. We must build on the momentum from the Keystone protests and pressure President Obama to initiate more green legislation and clamp down on forces like TransCanada. If he can lead Congress to binding significant acts, we will be on a better path.


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