You have an opportunity to make your voices heard on the Keystone XL pipeline, and it is critical that you take a stand today. We are in the final days of the public comment period for the National Interest Determination (NID) by the U.S. Department of State, and I urge you to write Secretary John Kerry to express your opposition to the tar sands pipeline.
I have said repeatedly that the pipeline is bad for the environment, will worsen the impacts of climate change, and will provide only 35 permanent jobs according to the Environmental Impact Statement. Another reason I oppose the pipeline is because tar sands is one of the filthiest kinds of oil on our planet and is already causing health miseries to those communities impacted.
The health impacts of tar sands oil have been largely ignored. Last month, the State Department released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline, and it lays out some of the reasons why the pipeline would worsen climate change, including that operation of the pipeline would be the equivalent of adding 300,000 more cars on our roads each year. But the EIS was woefully inadequate when it came to exploring the human health impacts of the tar sands oil.
That is why Senator Whitehouse and I wrote to Secretary Kerry last week asking that the Obama Administration analyze the public health risks to our communities from the pipeline. I asked the Obama Administration to complete a comprehensive Health Impacts Study and give us the time we need to analyze it.
Recently I held a press conference where doctors and community representatives discussed how health impacts follow the tar sands process – from extraction to transport to refining to waste disposal.
We heard from a doctor in Alberta, Canada, who told us that patients in his small community, which is located near a tar sands extraction site, have been diagnosed with cancer at a rate 30 percent higher than average.
We heard from a University of Michigan Professor about research showing significantly higher levels of dangerous air pollutants and carcinogens downwind from a tar sands refinery near Alberta, where people are suffering higher rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A community representative from the Gulf Coast community of Port Arthur, Texas, told us how residents living near tar sands refineries suffer from asthma, respiratory ailments, skin irritations, and cancer.
Another community representative told us about a Chicago neighborhood that experienced billowing clouds of black grit blowing off mountains of pet coke, which is the byproduct of tar sands, that forced little league players to quickly run off the baseball field and take cover.
If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, tar sands will be transported through communities in environmentally sensitive areas in 6 states. We know from experience how harmful this can be, because tar sands oil is very difficult to clean up when a spill occurs – just ask residents living near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. A 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled over a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River still has not been cleaned up.
We need answers to questions about how this pipeline is in the national interest. How are more Americans with asthma in the national interest? How are more Americans with cancer in the national interest? How is it in the national interest when kids playing baseball have to duck and cover from dangerous pollution?
Children and families in the U.S. have a right to know now -- before any decision to approve the Keystone tar sands pipeline -- how it would affect their health. Please take action today -- write Secretary Kerry and ask for a thorough Health Impacts Study.
Senator Boxer is the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.