Thursday, May 8, 2014

Climate Change: Woolf Evasive On Keystone XL

Aaron Woolf and Bill Owns April 2014If the existential issue of our time is climate change, the Keystone XL pipeline project is the decisive political issue of the day. As Bill McKibben has said, “If we’re trying to do something about climate change, which theoretically all our governments are committed to doing, then (Keystone) is a very big deal. It’s the equivalent of adding six million new cars to the road.”

Other analysts say the impacts would be even greater over an extended period of time – the equivalent of 1 billion vehicles or 1,400 coal-fired power plants in greenhouse gas emissions. Legislators’ position on the Keystone project, which would extract oil from Canadian tar sands and pipe it through midwestern states to the Gulf Coast, is then, an indication of how seriously they take the threat of climate change to the communities they represent.

Here on Lake George, according to scientists from the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, the water temperature of Lake George is warmer fifteen days earlier and fifteen days later than historic norms. The profusion of algae documented in recent years may be due at least in part to the warmer water temperatures. So it’s not surprising that Senators Gillibrand and Schumer oppose Keystone.

Our Congressman, Democrat Bill Owens, on the other hand, supports Keystone. He recently announced that he had joined Senate Republicans in demanding a vote on the project and in calling upon President Obama to approve it: “I am fully supportive of efforts in the Senate to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project. The pipeline will create jobs by partnering with Canada, our trusted neighbor and largest trading partner.”

Owens, of course, has chosen not to run for re-election, and the Democrats have nominated Aaron Woolf, a documentary filmmaker with a home in Elizabethtown, to replace him. I have asked Woolf’s campaign repeatedly to tell us where he stands on Keystone. Thus far, no response.

It’s inconceivable that a candidate could have no position on the issue, and a failure to respond to the question can only be interpreted as a lack of political courage, an unwillingness to risk losing Owens’ conservative voters on the one hand, or the support of progressive voters on the other. But the issue is too important to dodge.

As Marc Yaggi, the executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance said when we asked him what he thought of candidates ducking the issue, “Public officials should take an informed and educated stance on this important national issue. We believe that the millions of barrels of the most polluting oil on earth that would be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline represent a significant threat to our planet.  Moreover, with fossil fuel accidents happening with increasing frequency, the pipeline poses an unacceptable level of threat to our nation’s swimmable, drinkable, and fishable waterways.”

Matt Funiciello at work in his bakery May 2014Green Party candidate Matt Funicello did answer promptly when we asked him to state his position on Keystone. Here’s his comment: “Keystone is a terrible initiative. Every federal dollar spent bringing more fossil fuel into our country instead of focusing our efforts on the development of public utilities that are both sustainable and renewable seems incredibly short-sighted to me. I believe we are much smarter than that. Just like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, promises of cheaper gas for consumers will never occur.”

Agree with Funcillo or not, at least give him credit for stating his opinion. And who knows? It may be to his political advantage. Jamie Henn, the spokesman for, the climate activist group founded by McKibben, commented, “People in the North Country are already seeing the impacts of climate change and know that we can’t approve more carbon intensive projects like this massive tar sands pipeline. We haven’t taken a position on this particular race, but we’re confident that candidates that come out strongly against Keystone XL will benefit from an electrified base of young people, progressives, and environmentalists who want to support them. Pro-Keystone Democrats will have a much more difficult time firing up those same voters. Midterms are won on turnout, which relies on supporter intensity, and pipeline opponents are far better organized than proponents.”

I planned to ask Woolf to state his position on Keystone at a candidates’ night in June in Hague, which was announced on May 6. On May 8, however, the organizers announced that Woolf had withdrawn from the event.

Why am I not surprised? Woolf’s campaign is the least communicative we’ve ever encountered in the North Country.

Photos: Above, Bill Owens (l) campaigns with Aaron Woolf in late April; below, Green Party candidate Matt Funicello at his bakery in early May.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

27 Responses

  1. Lee Keet says:

    We can all agree, I hope, that this filthy oil is not our best choice for our energy needs. Mining tar sands releases huge amounts of green-house gases, then transporting releases more and creates risks to both humans and the environment. If not moved by pipeline it moves by train, burning more fuel and creating more risk. So all alternatives are terrible if you start with the premise that we need that oil. We don’t. I understand Aaron Woolf’s reluctance to take a “when did you stop beating your wife” -like question.

    We are ready for a solar alternative. Modern solar cells can produce electricity at not a lot more cost than buying it from that oil, coal, or gas-fired plant. If the money that it will cost to build XL, police it, and clean up any pipeline breaks were put into additional solar incentives we could do away with the need to move any of that sulfurous tar to a refinery, and as more solar was installed the price would continue to drop to a not-far-off point where it would be uneconomical to mine it in the first place. What we need is more government focus on solar, more net metering, legalized cluster metering (so we can build small municipal solar plants), and short-term financing options so businesses and home can convert to solar.

    • Paul says:

      It takes oil to make solar panels. It takes oil to install solar panels. It takes oil to transmit electricity produced with solar panels.

      When all the alternatives are terrible the sensible thing to do is the least terrible alternative.

    • Outlier says:

      Define “not a lot.”

      By the way, the solar power plant recently commissioned in the California desert needs to operate natural gas powered boilers for up to 5 hours a day to keep the plant warm overnight and to make up for production on cloudy days.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Fact. Canada will mine and sell the oil. Stopping the pipeline will not change that reality.
    Maybe the environmentalist would like to invade Canada to prevent Canada from doing what Canada has every right to do.

    • Paul says:

      They already are. I am at least happy to see that Shell oil is committed to using carbon sequestration technology to make sure that this oil extraction does not emit more carbon that traditional extraction methods. Again, this isn’t perfect but makes a “less terrible” alternative a little less terrible, and it allows the technology to be developed for future use. Getting companies to sequester carbon is much more achievable than some of the other alternatives. We need to start reducing our emissions now not when alternative sources are able to compete with current sources. And everyone who lives in the real world knows that this is a ways down the road. Everyone working together is the only solution that includes current large scale energy producers.

    • John Sorrenson says:

      For me that’s what makes this a difficult decision if one is think pragmatically. If we don’t invade Canada they will develop these tar sands. If they are developed the amount of Carbon released will truly be a weapon of mass destruction to the entire planet. Canadian Bacon. Where is John Candy when we need him.

  3. Ellen Apperson Brown says:

    Whether or not Woolf is in favor of a pipeline is a valid question. Being in support of solar energy is a far cry from trying to invade Canada. I would want my Congressman ( if I lived in New York) to at least articulate his position, and be willing to live with his honest choices.

  4. Al Worthington says:

    Unfortunately, have to agree with Pete Klein. Perhaps it’s the lesser of two evils: freight trains loaded with dirty crude traveling around and in our Park vs one more pipeline added to the hundreds currently traversing our nation west of the Mississippi.

  5. John L says:

    “We are ready for a solar alternative” (to fossil fuels). Bullfeathers! Not only is solar NOT ready to replace fossil fuels, it’s a LONG way from being ready, if ever. What we need RIGHT NOW in this country is energy independence so we can start to pay off the massive debts that this government has incurred. At this critical moment in time, the only possibility for energy independence (and subsequent debt reduction) is thru the use of more of the present mix of fuels, mainly fossil. For the future, the LAST thing we need is for the government to try to lead us in a direction of its’ choosing. Every time they get involved in that sort of an issue, massive waste and fraud follow with only negative results (think Solyndra, think Ethanol, etc).

    • dave says:

      There are other countries that are right now – as I type – producing a noticeable, and increasing, amount of their national energy from new, renewable technologies. This is no longer a question of ‘if’, it is a question of ‘when.’

      These other countries are jumping out ahead of us and will be global leaders in this inevitable future, and will reap the benefits from it. While we get left behind. Does that sound like an acceptable American future to you?

      And OUR Government has always helped US head in the directions that WE choose. We live in a Democracy. The government is ours, it is us. Our government helps us lead the way into new industries and technologies all the time. It helped us lead the way into space, it helped us lead the way into the information age, and if we are smart, we will use it to help us lead the way out of fossil fuel dependency and into the future of energy.

      • Paul says:

        In the case of clean energy in the form of nuclear power the government has stifled our ability to use it even when we choose to do so. I wish that would change. Then we could, like France, really start to get ourselves off fossil fuels and fast.

      • Outlier says:

        Germany has an aggressive program to switch to renewables. They have electric rates so high that industry is reconsidering any expansion in Germany. The situation is so bad that they are building coal fired power plants while closing down their nuclear plants.

        Spain heavily subsidized renewables. They are a financial basket case and only a fraction of the “green jobs” materialized. They have one of the highest rates of unemployment in Europe.

  6. Tony Hall says:

    Here’s a response to the question from the campaign of Elise Stefanik:

    “The Keystone Pipeline is estimated to create thousands of jobs in America and help stimulate our economy,” said Charlotte Guyett, campaign spokeswoman. “Elise understands first hand how the struggling economy has affected small businesses and hard working Americans and a project that can help stimulate the economy and create jobs is one she strongly supports.One of the greatest treasures of upstate New York is the land itself. Elise recognizes the critical importance of protecting the Upstate environment and finding a balance between stewardship and clean economic growth,” said Guyett. “She will always work to ensure future generations in the 21st District are able to enjoy the experiences of living in Upstate the way she has.”

    • dave says:

      Geez, what is worse? Not answering a question right away, or providing some scripted political babble as an answer.

    • John Sorrenson says:

      SO that means she supports it? The methamphetamine industry supports a lot of jobs also.

    • Outlier says:

      This is why I stopped watching the Sunday Morning talk shows.

  7. Pete Klein says:

    If you don’t like oil, propane or coal but do like electricity, the only realistic alternative is nuclear.
    Solar and wind turbines pollute by gobbling up the landscape with their unsightliness and will never provide as much electricity as we demand and can afford.

    • John Sorrenson says:

      The answer is a comprehensive approach including all of these alternatives. There is no one panacea.

  8. jan freed says:

    There are many good reasons to say “no” to Keystone.
    It will not create the jobs claimed* for it, nor will it reduce prices at the pump. In fact, prices may go up as domestic oil finds easier ways overseas.
    It threatens drinking water supplies.
    But most importantly, the IEA estimates that Keystone could harvest 3 times the carbon that would take us over 2 degrees C, the absolute limit for a catastrophe we might survive, if we’re lucky. And other carbon projects are in the wings, taking us up to +6 deg. C, with “massive climate change and irreparable damage” How reckless can we be?
    See: “IEA acknowledges fossil fuel reserves climate crunch”…
    We are warned of this climate abyss by our most trusted messengers, such as NOAA, NASA, every scientific academy, such as the Royal Academy of UK (SIr Isaac Newton was president), the National Academy of Sciences (Einstein was a member), the very conservative World Bank, fact-checked by National Geographic, Scientific American.
    We are told of current disastrous health effects by the 
American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and the AMA.
    We cannot rely on State Department assessments, if made by employees of the carbon industries.
    And Keystone could eventually strip forests the size of Florida, forests that might have absorbed enormous quantities of CO2 before they were removed as “overburden”.
    Would Keystone “replace” those forests? They’ve said they would make good any future
 damage. Laughable.
    Even 2 degrees itself may be too high – a “prescription for disaster”
says Dr. James Hansen, chief climatologist at NASA (ret.), one who, early on, predicted many of the catastrophic effects that we have seen.
    Many of us know the bitter taste of the weird weather out there, with just current warming of .8 deg C. Recent consequences over the World and the U.S. are tallied here:…
    Shall we roll the dice for our kids and grand kids, saying “let it ride!” beyond 2 degrees and more? More, and we might invite abrupt, irreversible changes.
    No, taking your kids to to soccer practice or Disney World does not make up for that.
    With its high risks and low return, Keystone XL is not a smart gamble. Better is a price on carbon pollution that will boost sustainable energy (and hybrids) and a rebate check to citizens. . Or the DOD building 50GW of wind/solar, returning revenues to taxpayers.
A recent State Dept. study said the construction workforce would be 5,000 to 6,000 workers. And once the construction phase ends, almost all of these jobs, however many are created, would go away.

    • Outlier says:

      Although you don’t explicitly say so, I take it that Jan is not a supporter of nuclear power. She doesn’t mention nuclear as solution and proposes that the Department of Defense (that stellar example of procurement efficiency!) build wind/solar plants.

      Jan quotes former NASA scientist James Hansen. I wonder if she is aware of Hansen’s stated testimony to Congress that renewables are completely incapable of meeting non-carbon energy needs and that nuclear power is the only practical way to do so.

      • Paul says:

        Nuclear power is/was the future. The scientists that discovered how to harness it for good uses (and bad) knew this. We can use it and quickly solve this energy and climate problem or keep arguing whilst we burn! I agree we should not roll the dice for our kids and grand kids.

  9. Charlie S says:

    I like your attitude Jan. Us convenienced humans just aren’t futuristic enough to realize that eventually the oil and gas ‘is’ going to run out even if it’s 200 years from now.Imagine all of the damage from spills and the extraction process and all of the nasty negatives that come with the process of drilling in that amount of time.Imagine what this planet is going to be like than.They’ll be no clean water left for one….you know _ water,the lifeblood!

    I like getting around in my car but i’ll be darned if I’m one of those that leave it run while I’m shopping for plastic goods at Walmart for half an hour,or talking sports at the corner store with the locals eight days a week. Some people just don’t care Jan! They call that mindlessness. If gas and oil are the only solution for our needs than there’s no hope for us we’re in trouble!Me the optimist says that. We’re in trouble anyway! Of course if I’m lucky I might have another twenty to thirty years of life on this planet so why should I care about 200 years from now? Some of the responders on this issue are rubbing off on me evidently!

  10. Steve Hall says:

    I agree with Anthony Hall that the Keystone pipeline is an important issue. Woolf has his work cut out for him. Bill Owens was the first democratic congressman from our district in 150 years. Let that sink in. For better or worse, the 21st has been a conservative district for a long time.

    I’m always amazed that anyone would want to be a congressman, given the incessant flood of partisan drivel emanating from Washington, the constant balancing act on positions, as you try to cobble together a winning coalition of voters, not to mention the dreariness of having to spend half your term raising money for the reelection campaign. Still, I can admire someone who believes they can actually make a difference, in that maelstrom of irrationality called Congress. I support term limits partly to free politicians from the tyranny of you and I. Please, earn our support, and then do what you believe is best for the district and the country, which may itself be a contradictory marriage. Lame ducks may actually vote their conscience.

    What’s wrong with the Keystone is not only the claims made in its favor, but where they propose running it.
    The Oglala aquifer is the largest in the United States stretching from the Dakotas down to Texas. Trans Canada has already moved the proposed pipeline to minimize the chances that a leak will kill the water for millions of farmers, ranchers and homeowners. But the pipeline, if buried about five feet down, as proposed, will still pass through sections of the aquifer, which are within a few feet of the ground surface. There are farmers who can water their livestock, just by digging a hole, and while I appreciate the alleged new and improved sensing devices in the pipeline, guaranteed to minimize spills, it still sounds like famous last words, particularly after the Exxon Valdez and the Gulf Spill. And if they are wrong…. What is the backup plan? Is there anyone who believes that oil is more important than fresh water?

    Folks claim it will create thousands of jobs, but independent studies have forced Trans Canada again and again to revise their figures downward. Just google it. And, as others have mentioned above, the process of extracting the oil is much dirtier than drilling methods.

    Some say it will lead to lower gas prices for us. These may be folks who have never traveled in Europe, or even Canada, and don’t realize that we already pay among the lowest rates at the pump, anywhere in the world. Secondly, since we don’t own the tar sands bitumen crude from Alberta, which is more abrasive and causes more spills than drilled oil, and will constitute at least half of the crude flowing through the pipeline, how will that benefit us? And who really believes that the oil refined at Gulf refineries will not simply be sold overseas?

    Finally, what is most disturbing is that folks pushing the keystone take it for granted that Climate Change is a sham to create more grant opportunities for those climate scientists who believe that the anthropogenic component in GW is a real and potentially catastrophic threat. So they’re, in effect, not only willing to risk the mid west’s water, but the effects of GW into the bargain.

    This is a country built on innovation coming out of scientific discovery, and yet today, we find so many people denying science and grasping slices of ideological dogma on faith alone. Still others ridicule what climatologists tell us, while, without apparent irony, taking the claims of extremely vested interests, such as big oil and coal, at face value. We seem to be grasping to extend the advantages of the past, while trying to stop the promises of the future.

    Even if you don’t believe in climate change, wouldn’t the best way to rid ourselves of dependence on Mideast oil, be to cause the price of oil to drop by presenting it with competing technologies for alternative energy?

    Instead, we’ve decided to let China, soon to be the world’s largest creator of greenhouse gases, take that role, investing a lot more than we do in alternative energy research and manufacturing, and they will be the country that sells those solutions to the world, as we slip towards third world status.

    There are countries like France, which has figured out not only how to run the country largely on about 50 American pressurized water reactors, but has also figured out how to recycle most of the nuclear waste. Denmark, Germany, the UK and Japan, are far ahead of us in implementing alternative energy solutions like solar and wind. Someday, we’ll finally figure out how to build and contain fusion reactors, which is essentially what the sun is, which will mean no waste, but in the meantime we continue to subsidize big energy, while allowing other countries to take up the future and run with it..

    Sorry for the speech, but Mr. Woolf, we are entitled to know where you stand on Keystone.

    • Paul says:

      This is a good speech. What worries me is that on this issue is that opponents are using this as a wedge issue.

      We need to do all the things that Steve describes. This pipeline is a distraction from the real issues.

      Just make a decision one way or the other so that we all can move on.

  11. Tony Hall says:

    Maury Thompson reports today in the Glens Falls Post Star:

    Woolf, speaking with reporters at a stop in Glens Falls, said he is still considering whether to endorse the Keystone XL pipeline project.

    Owens has repeatedly endorsed the proposed oil pipeline from Canada through the United States to the Gulf of Texas, and he reiterated his support in a press release on May 2.

    “I am certainly listening to what the congressman is recommending and thinking about on this issue,” Woolf said.

    He said it’s important to weigh whether alternatives to the pipeline, such as shipping more oil by rail, would potentially be more dangerous.

    “It’s not unconnected, in our district, with the crude oil transports, which have become an increasing concern,” he said.

  12. Phil Brown says:

    My guess is that he doesn’t want to oppose the pipeline publicly because doing so would cost him votes.

    • Paul says:

      I am sure you are right, at this point just like with Fracking here in NYS, there is plenty of data to make a decision one way or the other. Anything else is pure politics and does show that a particular candidate (no matter their position on the issue) is politically a bit of a coward.

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