Liz has already posted about how the Lac-Magentic tragedy is likely to be exploited and to affect the Keystone XL debate. The post is intelligent and well thought out, but his conclusion (something along the lines of ‘we’re all f***ed’), while hard to argue with, is rather unsatisfying. I think there’s a couple of important questions that Montana progressives need to consider about Keystone XL, especially in light of a likely Schweitzer bid for Senate.
First, the disaster in Canada has put in sharp relief the inherent danger in transporting petroleum products by rail. The series of events that took place this week is still unclear, and a disaster of that magnitude is certainly unpredictable and unlikely to happen again. But more mundane incidents of oil spillage and environmental contamination are not only possible, they are currently occurring and inevitable. Four such incidents have already occurred in 2013, and the number, and the environmental toll, is only going to increase.
So as I see it, there are a few key questions progressives must wrestle with when determining how many of our political leaders’ apparent love the Keystone XL should affect how we support them (and I don’t have any hard and fast answers to these questions). First, is opposing Keystone XL a meaningful way to oppose the tar sands oil production? No one can argue that this is a good way to get oil, and it’s natural to want nothing to do with it. But as transport by rail has been jumping rapidly in the most recent years. It’s possible that the Lac-Magentic accident will slow this trend, but I personally doubt it. As it becomes clear that transporting oil by rail is not an empty bluff by pipeline advocates but in fact a real possibility, we have to consider whether the pipeline is in fact the worse option.
The second question is whether opposition to Keystone XL can be justified if the Tar Sands oil will still be extracted and transported in some other way. There is certainly the possibility that raising the transport costs of said oil will make it less economical and perhaps limit the extent of the extraction – although if it is currently economical in the midst of a global downturn in economic productivity, the inevitable return to manufacturing growth seems likely to ensure that that oil finds a market. Can a case be made that it’s better to transport oil less efficiently and more dangerously simply for the sake of keeping it out of OUR country? I of course disagree – not only does this, in my opinion, fail to accomplish any meaningful environmental progress, but I find it an inappropriate use the State Department and generally poor policy, more symbolic than practical.
And finally, even if Keystone XL is an atrocious project that should be opposed by all available means, can politically opposing it in Montana have any effect? Is it reasonable or even productive to expect politicians in Montana to take the clearly unpopular side on this debate? Is it possible to be elected to Senate or House on a platform opposed to Keystone, and if it is possible, can it make a real difference?
My views are clear, and I hope well justified, but I don’t possess any special knowledge on the issue, and I’m curious what others more deeply connected to the issue have to say.