If 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.”
Green 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 350.org, 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.