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Montana’s Frontline Against Big Oil

Missoula.

Even more than Louisiana, Montana stands on the front lines in America’s imperialistic war on the environment, a war that is being fought to feed our desperate addiction to crude oil.

Somewhat lost in the Montana media’s focus on the local angle of gigantic monster trucks taking over our scenic byways, and quite possibly ending up in one of our pristine rivers with no real response plan (sound familiar?), is the even larger issue of empowering the world’s biggest corporations – BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips – to push us over the brink of climate catastrophe, with no real plan for recovering our life support system once it is irretrievably broken.

The massive expansion of Canadian tar sands oil extraction will, if allowed to proceed, go down as the biggest crime against the environment in history. Thanks to the corruption of Alberta’s provincial government and the greed of the aforementioned public enemies, a vast boreal forest the size of Florida will be laid to waste, fouling the water and turning one of the world’s largest carbon sinks – storing 11 percent of the world’s carbon and home to 166 million birds – into the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet. Leading experts on global climate change warn that with this development, there will simply be no turning back.

How is this possible?

At the same time our political leaders talk about breaking our addiction to oil by switching to renewable sources of energy, they are conspiring with the oil companies to grow our addiction. According to the State Department, tar sands development is “dictated” by the growing demand for oil in America. In order to allow for an increase of 1 million barrels per day of petroleum consumption by you and me over the next decade, President Barack Obama stands poised to sign off on three new pipelines that will accept 900,000 barrels per day from the tar sands.

According to a financial risk management group’s report, the tar sands expansion is nothing less than a land-based, slow-motion version of the Gulf disaster. It will cause permanent devastation to a fragile ecosystem. Already, as migratory birds and other wildlife (including moose) make the mistake of landing on or stepping into any of the 80 square miles of toxic tailings ponds, they sink into the muck and suffocate. Even apart from the global climate impacts, already being felt here in Montana, according to the report by RiskMetrics the long-term impacts on the people and environment of Alberta are “arguably greater” than those posed by the Gulf blowout. The difference being, of course, that one of these disasters is still preventable.

Before approving the Keystone Pipeline Project to accommodate this intentional catastrophe, the State Department must determine if the project serves our “national interest.” Apparently, the idea of actually avoiding the increase in our collective demand for crack petroleum has not occurred to them, and they are choosing to ignore the climate implications in their environmental study.

This war on our climate is a war being fought against our children by an economic system that promotes the pursuit of short-term profits by corporate “persons” at the cost of destroying the biosphere. Pursuant to our irreligious worship of crass materialism and concentrated wealth, corporate CEOs compete with one another to maximize their company’s short-term profits while treating the costs – such as fouling an entire oceanic ecosystem, removing entire mountaintops and destroying streams in the Appalachian range, or strip-mining boreal forests in Alberta – as “externalities” (collateral damage?) to be borne by us (see: Exxon Valdez). In the case of climate change, however, these externalities now happen to be the fate of all species, including our own.

We have a chance here in Montana to make a difference. Tell Obama to draw the line in the tar sands at our shared border with Alberta. Tell him the first step in breaking our addiction is zero tolerance for increased consumption of crack petroleum. Comment before June 16 by going to www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov. Do it for your children.

TOM WOODBURY is Montana director of the Wester Watersheds Project.

 

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