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We Should Not Be Subsidizing a Fossil Fuel Industry That Is Hurting Our Communities

Janine Jackson interviews David Turnbull about Donald Trump’s pipeline orders.

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Janine Jackson: “With one swipe of the presidential pen, the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines were back on the agenda,” so reported CNN. But back on the agenda is not the same thing as being a done deal. Our next guest says those pipelines will not be completed. David Turnbull is campaigns director at Oil Change International. He joins us now by phone from Oakland. Welcome to CounterSpin, David Turnbull.

David Turnbull: Thanks for having me.

First of all, a lot of news reports say it’s unclear exactly what the executive orders, on DAPL and on Keystone, what they mandate. Do you have any more clarity on what actually changed or changes with that swipe of the presidential pen?

You know, it’s still a little unclear. I mean, it’s not totally clear [if] what the president has signed is incredibly legally astute, which is not a huge surprise. But what he has signed, with respect to the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL, are two separate memorandums. For Dakota Access, it instructs the Army Corps of Engineers to go ahead and issue the remaining permits that are required to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Of course, we know that there are major issues with that pipeline, from environmental to social resistance issues to consultation with Native tribes. And so our view is that while that instruction is in place, there’s still some steps that need to be taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to actually consider the pipeline with the robust review process that’s necessary.

On Keystone, there is no application from the Keystone builder, TranscCanada, that is on the books right now. What Donald Trump has done is said, We hope that TransCanada will reapply for the Keystone XL permit, and when they do, I’m instructing the State Department to run a swift review process within 60 days to essentially ram that pipeline through.

We also know that for Keystone XL, there is massive opposition to that pipeline, just as with Dakota Access, that was built over years of movement-building and campaigning. And furthermore, there is no actual approved route through the state of Nebraska, which is a requirement for it being built as well. So these executive orders or memorandums that the president has signed are important, in that they are reviving pipelines that had been defeated, but it’s not a done deal by any means.

Before we talk about resistance, I’d like to get your reaction to–it’s a quote from a New York Times article, but I have seen it elsewhere. It says, “The pipelines were more about symbol than substance, but generated enormous passion on both sides of the debate.” What do you make of that take, that Keystone and Dakota Access are really not substantive issues, that it’s really more about people’s feelings?

I think you can ask any one of the many thousands of water protectors, Standing Rock Sioux tribe members in the Dakotas, about whether it’s just a symbol to them. It absolutely isn’t. It’s impacting their culture, their land, their water. It’s a pipeline that would incentivize massive increases in oil production in the Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas, which run entirely counter to our efforts to combat climate change. So while people may brush it off as a symbolic pipeline or a symbolic protest, to the folks that are on the ground, risking their lives in some cases, resisting and working to protect the water, that’s simply just not the case.

On Keystone XL, it would incentivize increased production of the dirtiest oil on the planet. We have done numerous analyses that show that that increased production of the tar sands in Canada would totally hamper and essentially make our efforts to address climate change nearly impossible. So, again, you can ask the people that are along the route in Nebraska whether this is a symbolic fight for them, or you can ask scientists whether increasing production of the tar sands is aligned with our efforts to address climate change, and both of those groupings will tell you that it’s not merely symbolic.

The vision we have is that we have an industry, a fossil fuel industry, that does this thing that is recognized as harmful, but they do it because it’s profitable. And then on the other side, in this vision, we have government, which tries to check that harmful behavior, but maybe not very effectually. Oil Change International has just recently called attention to how that really isn’t the vision of how things work. Could you tell us a little about the subsidies involved here?

Sure. The US government gives tens of billions of dollars a year to the fossil fuel industry by way of subsidies, tax breaks, handouts from the American people to an industry that has been in existence for over a hundred years and is doing the work to destroy our planet. These are subsidies that are totally inappropriate both from an economic standpoint but also from a moral standpoint. We should not be subsidizing an industry that is hurting our communities, that is impairing our climate and that is raking in record profits, massive profits. We have been pushing for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, not just in the United States but around the globe, for years now, especially since, in 2009, the G20 nations decided to commit to eliminating these subsidies, and yet they continue to this day.

I think it just interferes so strongly with the picture of government as, you know, trying to check the exploitative behavior of these companies, but just maybe not doing it quite so well. In fact, there’s something entirely different than that going on, it seems like.

Well, now we’ve got Scott Pruitt at EPA, we’ve got Rex Tillerson at State. I don’t have a question connected with that, except to bring you back to your confidence that these pipelines are not going to go through, which I think many people would say, well, golly, all the odds are assembled on the other side of that equation. So why are you so confident in the resistance to this?

When Keystone XL was first thrust into the national conversation, every single pundit, every single expert in the industry, all of the odds were saying that Keystone XL was going to sail through and be approved, and that our resistance and protests were going to be just a sidenote to a pretty quick process. We know that was not the case. We got Keystone XL rejected because there was a massive movement that was pestering and protesting the administration at every single turn.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was also fully on its way to being built, and amazing Standing Rock Sioux tribe members and other water protectors stood up and said no, despite major odds. And we could not see what the resolution was going to be when that Standing Rock camp was first established, but they had all sorts of intention and inspiration and drive to protect their land and water, and at the end of the day, in the Obama administration, it was stopped. And so we have beaten large odds before, and I have every confidence that those movements are going to beat these large odds again.

We’ve been speaking with David Turnbull of Oil Change International. You can find their work online at David Turnbull, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thanks for having me.

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