In late 2006, Carrie La Seur, Ph.D., J.D. (Billings, MT) founded Plains Justice, a non-profit public interest environmental law firm, in response to the implementation of coal power on prime farm land in eastern Iowa. This threat to the quality of life and environmental sustainability to the communities of eastern Iowa instigated a local movement supporting landowners’ rights and Carrie La Seur answered the call. Plains Justice provides legal resources to assist communities in the Northern Plains by facilitating the transition to a clean energy future. Also, Plains Justice is a valuable ally for people of the Midwest whose land will be affected by the installation of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada’s head office is in Calgary, Alberta Canada.
With the U.S. election not far off, President Obama’s denial of the Keystone XL pipeline installation on January 18 changed everything as this delay forced TransCanada to rethink the route. “My observation is that there’s been widespread support and praise for Obama’s action. With the election nearly a year away, he could have granted the permit and hoped that people would forget,” explains La Seur.
The Keystone XL pipeline plan will be revised and the installation revisited but now there is a delay in operations until 2015 as posted on the Plains Justice Blog and originally reported by Reuters on February 14, 2012. The cost of the pipeline will rise by from $7 billion to $7.8 billion because of this delay. Obama has rejected the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline twice; first in November 2011 when he delayed the decision until 2013, and again when the Republican legislators tried to force him to make a decision but he refused because the additional environmental studies were incomplete. Since the extraction of crude oil from the oilsands emits more greenhouse gases than conventional oil, Alberta is especially vulnerable to the detrimental environmental effects that this huge Keystone XL pipeline project will incur on fresh high quality water and soil. Additionally, imminent oil spills will be a danger to both countries.
There is more trouble brewing for Alberta and Canada but this time it’s with the European Union (EU) over the oilsands indicated in a February 20th article by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), EU oilsands policy could spark trade complaint. The EU plans to classify oilsands crude as more detrimental to the environment than other fuels that immediately prompted Canada to warn that they will “defend its interest including at the World Trade Organization.” The EU is disgruntled because the fuel quality directive would make Alberta oil more expensive to European customers if the product were sold to them. But even more alarming in this article is Dr. Andrew Weaver’s comment that “if all the hydrocarbons in the oilsands were mined and consumed, the carbon dioxide released would raise global temperatures by about 0.36 degrees.” Dr. Andrew Weaver is the lead author on two reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Weaver is also a professor at University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis.
The fight over Keystone XL pipeline is far from over
The Keystone XL pipeline fight is far from over with farmers and landowners along the pipeline route in the Midwestern US and Plains Justice will be there to fight for their rights until the end. “It’s very likely that the proposal will return in a very similar form. In the states where we work, we’ll continue to do what we’ve always done: provide legal and technical support for people affected along the route so that they can participate fully in the process and defend their rights,” insists La Seur. If landowners refuse to have TransCanada access their land to install this pipeline, they can get around it by using eminent domain. La Seur defines eminent domain. “The pipeline is being sited using eminent domain. After the power of eminent domain is granted and formal condemnation proceedings are completed in state courts, TransCanada will have the right to site the pipeline across private land against the landowners’ objections.”
If a Republican government occupies the office after the next election and they approve the Keystone project, the conflict is guaranteed to intensify. “I would expect any Republican president to approve Keystone XL. South Dakota has already given its approval. Nebraska is in the middle of negotiations over route changes. Montana may give its approval soon, which would create opportunities for appeal at the state level. The states do have the opportunity to improve their pipeline siting, pipeline abandonment and eminent domain law to prevent future abuses – advocacy might focus on that,” explains La Seur. There is more information that the public should know about the risks and economics of Keystone XL pipeline.
According to La Seur, federal law governs the Environmental Impact Statement process, so there are limits on how much TransCanada can dictate the process. “I doubt that TransCanada will give up. The supplemental EIS is expected to focus on route changes in Nebraska.” Some important questions relating to environmental consequences were not answered in the Environmental Impact Statement. “As reflected in Plains Justice’s 2010 reports, we have serious concerns about the source and quality of pipeline materials, including steel, and the adequacy of emergency response planning. Neither of those issues is addressed satisfactorily in the final EIS,” admits La Seur. Download the detailed report The Northern Great Plains at Risk: Oil Spill Planning Deficiencies in Keystone Pipeline System (Plains Justice November 23, 2012) for more details. At the end of the report, Plains Justice took the time to make some important recommendations.
Plains Justice will remain a facilitator for a clean energy future
Plains Justice is committed and determined to promote clean energy alternatives for the sake of all communities in the Midwest and to uphold environmental integrity. For example, one of their flagship programs is Clean Energy Ambassadors, a peer-to-peer outreach to rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities to expand their energy efficiency and renewable energy program capacity. “We’ve put major organizational resources into this program since the first year of Plains Justice’s existence in 2007. Our commitment to clean energy alternatives is significant. The Obama administration’s fuel efficiency standards are an extremely important step toward reducing dependence on foreign energy sources and fossil fuels. The US Department of Energy under Secretary Chu has demonstrated historical leadership on clean energy R&D,” shares La Seur.
Who will win this battle over Keystone XL pipeline – landowners and environmental advocacy groups or TransCanada? Only time will tell. La Seur concludes, “The fight over Keystone XL will continue. TransCanada isn’t going to give up. I would need a crystal ball to be able to say whether or not the funding and staffing will be available for Plains Justice to continue to work on this issue. I’m sure other organizations will.”
For updated information on the Keystone XL pipeline and Carrie La Seur’s blog, go to the Great Plains Justice Tarsands Pipeline website here.