Montana Politics

Has Keystone Opposition Outlived its Usefulness?

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Reminds me of Douglass – “Power yields nothing without a polite request.” Democrats are experts in politeness.

    • To be less snarky, we are a business-owned and business-run society. The decision on Keystone has already been made. Your opinions, even though well-considered, are irrelevant. The job before leadership now is to manufacture consent. The media will parrot the industry line, never looking under a leaf. The Democratic Party will gather up malcontents and make sure their opposition never gels. Everyone has a part to play. That’s just how it works in a business-run society.

      Lac-Magentic needs thorough investigation and any conclusions about its causes are premature. Sabotage is one possibility – remember, we are not dealing with crown citizens, but rather corporations that easily fit the definition of psychopaths. .

      • Pogie, it’s not that your outlook is narrow, confined, limited, all of that. All of us suffer from constraints because we simply cannot expose ourselves to enough of the world to have a truly broad outlook. We do the best we can. But you are unusual in that you are so supremely confident that you’ve got a handle on things. It must be part of an academic career, to be around students all day and to know that you have more depth and breadth than they do. But that attitude seems to carry out to the bigger world, and out here you are not up against students. Most of us have tremendous exposure to things you have it studied, even as we lack some I sight not some things in which you seem to have a good basis . Thinking …

        Anyway, I catch your condescension, and find that there is is no basis for it.

          • I’ll give it one last shot. Matt posted an interesting and thoughtful series of questions about Keystone XL and how progressives should respond.

            I actually think you’ve got the capacity to have a discussion about the subject as you’ve obviously read a great deal and have strong opinions. Rather than engaging, though, on new, substantive level, you retreat into the same tired world of attacking Democrats.

            The reason I find you so frustrating is because you just can’t stop yourself. So rather than engage, I mock.

            Help yourself. Join the conversation on another level. Address the questions Matt presented.

            I think you can do it. If not, I’ll just content myself to periodically poking at you without even bothering to read what you write.

            • I rarely read anything you write. True statement. You’re very predictable. Every title of every post says “I’m at it again!”

              Matt’s post, like most oriented in Democratic culture, comes from an insulated outlook wherein we live in a society where the attitudes of ordinary people matter. He then postulates our alternatives. We have none. There will be a pipeline. That decision was made years ago. Why suffer through acts one and two when the third act has already played out? That’s what I don’t get – surely on some level you know this? Is your ponderous bifurcation of issues merely a cover for powerlessness? I have some power in that I know it is all fake. You could use some of that.

              This is not an interesting conversation but can be made so if you introduce some real understanding of the makeup of our fake democracy into it. You’re basically saying I have to play Matt’s game by Matt’s rules. That’s boring, frankly. I refuse to be pigeonholed by an academic.

  • To one of your questions, Matt, I think working to ensure that it’s not hauled over US soil is important for a couple of reasons, including the danger to the Ogallala aquifer.

    It’s parochial, sure, but if Canada wants to ship oil to China and believe it’s safe, they can certainly build a pipeline across the Canadian Rockies. Having more skin in the game may force them to be more proactive about building a better pipeline, because right now, the evidence is that Transcanada isn’t as concerned as they should be.

    • Don, I agree with your perspective here:

      “I think working to ensure that it’s not hauled over US soil is important for a couple of reasons, including the danger to the Ogallala aquifer.”

      Interestingly enough when people like Liz, myself or any of the thousands of Native Americans, rural farmers, climate scientists and environmental activists (including those who danced on a table to oppose Keystone XL [supposedly setting the environmental movement back decades]) expressed similar sentiments we’ve been label NIMBY, petty enviros by Matt Downhour.

      See below for examples of some of that exchange within the past few weeks.

      “If you admit that Canada will develop the tar sands regardless of whether we build Keystone or not, the argument against the pipeline becomes mere NIMBY environmentalism, and all the pettiness that comes with it. ” -PW


      “I’m really objecting to one sentence by lizard, one which I hope was typed in the heat of the moment and was not sincere:

      ‘the Canadian bitumen can be transported across Canada for export. there’s no need to move it through Montana at all.’

      This is no less less petty than asking the Mexicans stay in Mexico for the sake of our environment. Admitting that the pipeline is the least environmentally dangerous method of transport, but still opposing it because it runs through Montana, not British Columbia, is petty and destructive. ” -PW

      • I’m not going to speak for Matt, but I do see his point in the broader context. The global warming ramifications of Canadian tar sands happen no matter which way they ship it. Whether it’s the Canadian Rockies or the Midwest that bear the environmental costs of a spill doesn’t really matter, if the environment is the question.

        If blocking the pipeline through the US shuts down Canadian oil, we should do it. If it only changes the transport mechanism and Americans will consume just as much oil, there is an element of NIMBYism in blocking it.

        The key question is what would Canada do if the US blocked the pipeline and the key issue is decreasing our use of fossil fuels.

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