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This morning, the front page of the New York Times carried one of those stories that reminds you why it’s a good thing we have reporters.

Two weeks after a State Department report, speaking in the hermetically sealed tones of bureaucrats, predicted ‘minimal environmental impact’ from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the Times investigation found that in fact pipelines already crisscrossing America are leaking constantly and disastrously, that the federal agency assigned to protect them is so chronically understaffed, and that as a result they’ve left the “too much of the regulatory control in the hands of pipeline operators themselves.”

Not surprisingly, this  “self-regulation” works about as well as fox oversight of the poultry industry. For instance, in Michigan a 35-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River “once teeming with swimmers and boaters, remains closed nearly 14 months after an Enbridge Energy pipeline hemorrhaged 843,000 gallons of oil that will cost more than $500 million to clean up.”

And, “this summer, an Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying oil across Montana burst suddenly, soiling the swollen Yellowstone River with an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude just weeks after a company inspection and federal review had found nothing seriously wrong.”

These are the kind of concerns that caused the Republican governor and senator from Nebraska to last week demand that the White House refuse a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will cross, among other features, the Sand Hills of the Cornhusker State, not to mention the Oglalla Aquifer.  And the pipeline will carry oil that’s actually hardly oil at all—in the words of the Times story,  what comes from the tar sands of Alberta is “a gritty mixture that includes bitumen, a crude drawn from Canadian oil sands that environmentalists argue is more corrosive and difficult to clean when spilled.”

The tarsands are a mess at their origin, where an area the size of European nations has been wantonly trashed to get at the oil, wrecking indigenous cultures and lives. They’re a mess at the end, when refineries will turn them into gasoline that, when burnt, carry enough carbon to, in the words of NASA’s James Hansen, mean “game over” for the climate.

But the Times story also makes painfully clear that they’re a mess in the middle. The good news is President Obama can stop them all by himself. We’ll find out before the year is out whether he listens more to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (an enthusiastic backer of the pipeline), or the front page of the New York Times. Whether, that is, he listens to money or to science.

Originally posted to Bill McKibben on Sat Sep 10, 2011 at 11:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and EcoJustice.

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