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How to Grease a Pipeline

The State Department “hearings” around the country about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline have been rigged from the get go. We were just too passionately righteous to notice. Four of us from Livingston decided to speak at the Montana event.

Flyers were posted at Dawson Community College in Glendive, Montana, a week before the hearings, offering to pay students to stand in line to hold pro-pipeline testimony spots, so that the bussed-in, orange t-shirted, pro-pipeline union workers didn’t have to get there at the crack of dawn to ensure that they and they alone would be the ones who did the talking. They got there around one pm, lunch was provided, the t-shirts were free, and conveniently, the workers got paid to be there.

On the five-and-a-half-hour drive up from Livingston we had stopped in Miles City, about 45 minutes from Glendive, only to learn that TransCanada was already building houses for the pipeline workers it plans to import. This impertinence has pissed off a lot of the locals. We were told that the huge trucks with South Korean parts for the Tar Sands extraction are already moving up our highways to Alberta, flaunting a Montana judge’s order that it would be illegal to do so on Highway 12 until November.

We arrived at the community college in Glendive at around two in the afternoon. The parking lot was clotted with buses and the vibrant orange union members were gathered en masse, staring obediently at a woman standing on the back of a pick-up truck.

“All of you in the orange t-shirts sit together,” bellowed the blonde with a megaphone in her hand. “We want  the press to comment that the anti-pipeline attendees were far outnumbered by the pro-pipeliners.  We want them to see a sea of orange in every shot. So stay together.”

“Now take a number and get in line.”

I walked up the line handing out flyers detailing with the real number of jobs that the pipeline will generation, in contrast to the hundreds of thousands promised on the laughable TV ads that are running endlessly on MSNBC, and the 13,000 to 20,000 thousand being publicly promised by TransCanada.  TransCanada’s application to the State Department had clearly admitted that they anticipated needing a workforce of 3,500 to 4,200 and that of those potential jobs only 10 to 12 percent would be locally hired. You do the math.

When I got to the front of the line the orange shirts were giving their numbers to a woman with a list of names on it.  She would check off that number (let’s just call it 68) against the name and then turn to another woman on the truck next to her and call out the number. The second woman would go through her stack of envelopes looking for number 68, which, once found, was then handed to the body in front of her.  She was backlit, and inside the envelope was the distinctive shape of a check.

Wow.  Corruption in real time.  I was a thrilled to witness the practice first-hand.

“Get out of here!” the first peroxided blonde yelled.

“I’m just handing out fact sheets.” I said. “I’m a union member too.”  I didn’t mention that the union I was referencing was the Screen Actors Guild; it just didn’t seem the right time.

“We don’t want your facts!!  You people have to be over THERE!.”, she said, pointing to distant parking lot, “This parking lot is only for US.!”

The woman was clearly not from Montana because here we don’t divide our public parking lots into us and thems.  In fact she was an organizer from Seattle from a group call the Laborers International Union, which appeared to have, under its umbrella, the Teamsters Union, the Union of Pipefitters, AFL-CIO; the Journeymen’s Union; Construction workers, etc., all of whom had signed an agreement a full year ago with TransCanada.

I was led away–with force.

I stood in line and struck up a conversation with a Seattle Union organizer for the Laborers International Union who had helped negotiate a settlement in Yellowknife in northern Candad during a big labor dispute in the 1980s.  We had much in common. I’m from Yellowknife and he liked watching “Ice Road Truckers” just as much as I did.  One day I fully intend to get him to answer the critical question, “Who cut the checks?”

Finally we entered the college auditorium, passing through two tables manned by employees of Cardno Entrix, the big consulting company that has been hired by TransCanada to grease the pipeline permitting process, who were handing out flyers of their own.

In a shocking conflict of interest, Cardno Entrix was also hired by the State Department to help conduct its cursory “environmental review” of the pipeline. That’s what Cardno Entrix, an Australian company that has just bought a mine or two itself, does.  They contract out to mining and electrical companies and write blatantly green-washed environmental impact studies for them, and then help navigate the companies through the process of winning their permits.  Not surprisingly, Cardno found that the Keystone XL pipeline would have few if any negative environmental impacts.

Cardno Entrix’s chief lobbyist on behalf of the pipeline is Paul Elliott, who served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s national deputy campaign manager in 2008.  Elliott sought to broker multiple meetings between senior State Department officials and TransCanada executives.  He offered to enlist TransCanada officials’ aid in helping State officials forge an international climate agreement and he deluged administration officials with letters attesting to the virtues of the Keystone XL expansion project, which would ship Canada’s filthy porridge of bitumen, sand and pollutants from the tar sands of Alberta all the way to refineries in Houston, Texas.  When he converted Montana Senator Max Baucus to the cause, Elliott recieved a congratulatory email from someone in the State Department that said, “Well done!”

The first 24 speakers in the auditorium out in eastern Montana were pro-pipeline and all parrotted exactly the same talking points, cribbed from the TransCanada Pipeline Co. website. Similar cloned messages came in letters from Governor Schweitzer, Senator Max Baucus, and Senator Jon Tester: 13  to 20 thousand jobs; cheaper gas for Americans; energy security as we would be dealing with those polite, white Canadians who are our friends, and thus no more foreign wars would need to be fought over oil, such as the one in Afghanistan; and a state department environmental study that concludes that the pipeline was subject to strict new rules (not even remotely true) ensuring absolute environmental safety.

And several of them echoed one line that stood out like a sore thumb: “All these environmentalists who’ve been talking have been trying to scare you with all this stuff about oil spills and global warming.  Well, we need jobs, and we need them now.  Alternative energy won’t be ready for another 20 years.”  And of course, “I bet they drove here in cars, right?  They’re hypocrites”. One pro-pipeline speaker ended his three minutes by growling, “And all of those tree-hugging environmentalists can go burn in hell.”

The only problem with these statements was that not a single environmentalist had yet been given the chance to denounce the pipeline.

What none of the Keystone’s hired-guns copped to is that there will in fact be very few local jobs created (when  the first Keystone pipeline was built through the Dakotas, out of well over 300 local pipefitters, only 3 were hired); that the first Keystone pipeline had leaked 13 times in its first 12 months, and that 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil had spilled into the Kalamazoo River, destroying the tourist fishing and boating business there; and that 75 percent of the oil that those nice white Canadians were selling was already contracted to six companies–five of these companies are foreign and the business model of the one American company, Valero, is geared toward export. Oil companies don’t care about patriotism, they care about profits.

The morose moderator repeatedly reminded us that no decision had been made yet, and that these hearings were going to be fair, transparent, and open to all.

In a country with virtually no effective campaign finance  regulations and in which corporations have been declared people without the criminal liability associated with certain human practices, it’s not hard to buy yourself a senator or a gaggle of House members if you are the CEO of a rich company.  But buying a president’s foreign policy decision is somewhat trickier.  You can’t go through the House or Senate, you have to seduce the State Department, as it is the Secretary of State who makes the key recommendation to the President, and the President makes the decision all by himself.   Hillary Clinton stated months ago that she is inclined to urge Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.  Over the years she and Bill have been the grateful recipients of a great deal of largesse from Big Oil.

So if you’re a Big Oil company wanting to push through a nasty project what do you do?  First you buy off the unions who are desperate for jobs.  Who with a compassionate bone in their body is going to say no to unemployed laborers?  The LEU, Laborers Union International, was bought off a year ago by TransCanada pipeline with a pledge that they would provide 13, to 20,000 jobs.

Then you hire a notorious anti-environmental policy company to do your national PR.  In this case, Cardno Entrix, who, with a heavy hand, ran all the scam State Department hearings around the country exactly the same way they did in Montana.  The same buses, the same orange shirts, the same banners, and the same policy of letting the pro-pipeline people speak first and cutting off the anti-pipeline people when they spoke.

Will their underhanded tactics work? Probably.  It seems the decision has already been made. We the people, and the unions, are getting screwed once again.

Margot Kidder is an activist and actress. She lives in Livingston, Montana.

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Margot Kidder is an actress and activist in Montana.

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