Last month, December 2014, delegates from 190 nations met in Lima, Peru, to set the stage for saving the planet from human-induced climate change. Each nation agreed to document plans on how that nation will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and present them a month before the big Paris climate-change meeting in December 2015. This month, January 2015, the new U. S. Congress – completely led by the Fox-Republican-Tea Party – got off to a very predictable bad start. It decided to increase carbon dioxide emissions
The House of Representatives immediately passed a bill to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline between the Canadian border and Steele City, NE. Incredibly, the bill authorized bypassing regulations of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, neither of which are supported by these anti-environmentalists. To make matters worse, the majority also voted against a Democratic Party amendment that would have required the Keystone XL pipeline to pay 8 cents per barrel into the U.S. Treasury Department’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
The GOP’s primary selling point for this pipeline is that it may create as many as 42,000 jobs to build it, although it will require only 35 to 50 jobs once it’s completed. It’s nice that the Fox-Republican-Tea Party is finally giving lip service to job creation. For six consecutive years it’s opposed countless infrastructure projects that are truly needed, would have created many more and long-term jobs, and would have speeded the recovery from the Great Recession for everyone instead of only the extremely rich. For instance, the American Jobs Act was never passed, and, here in south Arkansas, all we have of Interstate 69 is future corridor signs.
Everything else about the Keystone XL pipeline is bad. At the Tar Sands site in Canada, an ancient boreal forest is being destroyed to get to the nasty crude. The projected pipeline will pass over the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains where a leak or spill will be disastrous. Also, tornadoes that occur in the plains can cause catastrophic damage to the pipeline. Once our Gulf Coast refineries do their jobs, the oil will be shipped overseas (Senate Republicans defeated a Democratic amendment that would have required the oil to stay in the U.S.) Then when this dirty oil is finally burned, it will emit 16 to 17 percent more carbon dioxide than regular sweet crude.
So how did this reprehensible bill ever get considered? Answer: It’s supposed to make some rich people even richer. Not jobs! Greed! And that’s why the Tar Sands crude will still be shipped to the Gulf Coast by rail whether the pipeline is built or not – if, of course, gas prices go back up to make it profitable enough.
In the mid-term Elections of 2014, the political arm of oil billionaires Charles and David Koch – Americans for Prosperity – spent $125 million getting their puppets elected on the state and national levels. Now the Washington, DC, lobbying team for Koch Industries is calling in their IOUs. The pipeline votes are just the beginning of a laundry list of paybacks to the wealthy. Like it or not, when we elected Ronald Reagan in 1980, we decided to return to the past and to a new Gilded Age. We replaced our democracy with a plutocracy – a government of the people by and for the rich.
I’m ashamed to say that my home state’s senators and representatives will not be part of the solution. Arkansas’s totally GOP congressional delegation will no doubt continue to vote whichever way the Koch brothers expect them to. During his 2014 campaign for the Senate, Tom Cotton skipped a popular Arkansas tomato festival, preferring to have a meeting with the Koch brothers instead. According to the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard of their voting records, none of our congressmen care anything about the environment, the future of the planet, or the fate of future generations of every species on Earth. In the House, Rick Crawford has a lifetime pro-environment record of 7 percent and Steve Womack’s is only 5 percent. Loyalist newcomers French Hill and Bruce Westerman are off to a zero percent start with their Keystone votes. Over in the Senate, John Boozman ranks at 8 percent and Tom Cotton at 7. Pathetic for them; embarrassing for us.
The most surprising vote was a 98 to 1 vote on a measure added to the Senate’s Keystone authorization by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Dem-RI). It only stated that “climate change is real and is not a hoax.” Sadly only 15 members of the GOP accepted amendments with language that stated that it’s human activity affecting climate change. That’s why GOP also means “Guardians of Polluters,” “Guardians of Privilege,” and “Guardians of the One Percent.”
The Grand Old Party is now essentially a subsidiary of Koch Industries. At their annual winter summit meeting near Palm Springs, CA, the Kochs assemble a large number of millionaires and billionaires to strategize for the next elections and hear from candidates they each may want to donate to. For this January’s meeting, the Koch brothers sent out invitations to audition to several Republican presidential aspirants. They included the likes of Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Each will address the super rich crowd in hopes of convincing them that he is the most supportive of their plutocratic agenda and can make them even richer. Interesting note: Mitt Romney was not invited, and that may be why he dropped out of contention.
And a final note: President Barack Obama will have to veto the pipeline or sacrifice his legacy on the vital climate-change issue. No one can authorize building that pipeline and advocate saving the planet at the same time.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published February 7, 2015, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.