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Keystone XL Pipeline Likely Not Headed for Senate Vote

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First Nation activist Clayton Thomas-Muller and journalist Steve Horn discuss reports that the push to force a Senate vote on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has been thwarted.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

According to the latest reports, it now appears that Republican-led efforts for congressional approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline have now been thwarted. The vote was set to take place this week and comes on the heels of President Obama’s announcement that he would delay approval of the pipeline for another year.

The pipeline would stretch 1,700 miles and pump tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.

Now joining us are two guests.

We’re joined by Clayton Chomas-Muller. He’s a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Canada. He’s based out of Ontario, Canada. He’s an organizer for Defenders of the Land and Idle No More, as well as a codirector of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign.

And we’re also joined by Steve Horn. He’s a journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. He’s also a research fellow at the DeSmogBlog.

Thank you so much for joining us.

So, Clayton, let’s start with you. You were just in D.C. as part of the Cowboy-Indian Alliance, you know, sending a pretty loud and clear message to President Obama and to Congress that a lot of people aren’t in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline. And pretty much as soon as that effort was over, we have the news that the Senate is trying to pass this measure and to kind of force President Obama’s hand. Give us your—what you understand is the latest news and your response to this move—this election-year move, I guess it’s important to note—by Congress?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER, CODIR., INDIGENOUS TAR SANDS CAMPAIGN OF THE POLARIS INST.: Well, I think since the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline being waged by communities from Alberta all the way down to Texas started so many years ago, this issue has grown into the biggest political liability for the Obama administration. Of course, President Obama being elected on some pretty huge promises in regards to his commitment to effective action on climate change, this Keystone XL Pipeline decision has become the tester of the integrity of his administration.

And we see how much of a hot political potato that this issue has become with the recent mobilization on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., of the Cowboy-Indian Alliance under the heading “Reject and Protect”. We saw an immediate response from the State Department, the Obama administration, delaying yet again the decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, many believing that that was directly related to the fact that we have midterms coming up and that this would damage the Democratic election credibility should they make a decision yea or nay. So we know that the incredible grassroots climate justice movement that has risen up around the issue of climate, around the issue of tar sands and its associated infrastructure, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, is making waves in Washington, D.C., and really across the nation.

And so today, of course, we hear that this motion by oil-bought congressional leaders, Senate leaders, is failing, which is a good sign. It’s a sign that America is standing for the climate. It’s a sign that the people are not interested in agendas that are being brought forward, bought and paid for by institutions like America’s Koch brothers, who hold the majority holdings in Canada’s controversial tar sands and stand a lot to lose should the Keystone XL Pipeline be denied, which all factors point towards it will be denied.

NOOR: While, you know, we’ve seen this kind of drama unfolding in D.C., what’s not being talked about is the southern half of the pipeline, which President Obama fast-tracked with an executive order. Talk about what you understand. This happened back in March 2012. And, you know, you’ve been reporting how it’s carrying already 7,000 barrels of oil a day. Give us an update about what’s happening in this southern half.

STEVE HORN, RESEARCH FELLOW, DESMOGBLOG: Well, you’ve got a pipeline that’s actually carrying right now—opened for business in January 2014, and it’s carrying 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day of tar sands—not just tar sands; also light oil, probably from the Bakken shale primarily.

NOOR: Okay. So it’s carrying way more than 7,000. I apologize for that.

HORN: Yeah. You know, so it’s a mix of both, according to their quarter one earnings call that’s up on Seeking Alpha.

And I think it’s kind of important to point out the trend that has really shifted. There was at one point a major glut of oil in Cushing, Oklahoma, because of lack of pipeline infrastructure, to bring it down to the Gulf. Because of the southern half of the pipeline, the Energy Information Administration has reported, both in March and April, that (A) Cushing is bottoming out. You know, it’s reaching its bottom inventory level. That doesn’t mean zero; it means kind of minimum levels that they allow themselves to keep, which is actually 20 million barrels of oil. It’s quite a bit of oil. That’s what they allow themselves to keep on a day-to-day basis. And in the Gulf, that’s reaching a glut. So, you know, the trend has reversed.

So what the oil industry wanted, which was to get this oil to the Gulf refineries, is happening and I think will unfortunately continue to happen, not only because of the Keystone XL southern half, but because of other pipelines that are going to open up oil to Cushing and down to the Gulf, such as Enbridge’s Flanagan South, which opens this summer, and Enbridge’s Seaway Pipeline, which connects to that at Cushing. That one goes down—Cushing, down to the Gulf. And I should say the Flanagan South is from Central Illinois down to Cushing. So we’re really seeing in the United States, while the Keystone XL northern half debate does rage on and is an important debate, the Keystone Pipeline system on the whole is being built up, but also pipelines around the United States are moving oil to their final destinies.

And so, you know, the industry press is really excited about this. Investors are excited. If you read reports from Canaccord Genuity, National Bank in Canada—there was an article on Bloomberg today where Morgan Stanley was—you know, they gave a quote to Bloomberg about how oil is bottoming out in Cushing. So this is an exciting time, actually, for investors and for some segments of the oil industry, obviously not for TransCanada, because they’re still looking to get their northern half of the Keystone XL built.

NOOR: And, Clayton, you know, we’ve just heard about this exciting time for the industry. We know there’s been this—we just talked about the posturing in the Senate, which is all appealing to the fact that, you know, there is some support for this pipeline. There’s significant support. And, you know, with the economy in the state it’s in, there’s a promise of jobs, of boosting the economy. How do you respond to critics that say, you know, we need to pass this now, we need to put people to work, and this is going to help, you know, break America off a reliance on foreign oil? How do you respond to people that just want to put Americans to work, and put Canadians to work as well?

THOMAS-MULLER: Well, in the most simple way, we have to understand that the Keystone XL Pipeline, you know, is part of a shell game. You know, there are multiple pipeline proposals brought forth by both TransCanada and Enbridge, as mentioned by Steve. You know. And all of these pipelines have one specific agenda, and that is to serve the purpose of big oil to try and unlandlock a stranded economic asset in Northern Alberta, the Canadian tar sands. Right now, they will go to the ends of the earth to try and get this oil to international markets.

This oil traveling through the Keystone XL Pipeline, if it’s built in the northern segment, will not create permanent jobs. You know, there’s maybe a few dozen permanent jobs once the pipeline is actually built. The risks associated to having tar sands crude traveling through critical ecosystems like the Ogallala Aquifer in the state of Nebraska far outweigh the economic short-term benefits of construction jobs that would come with this proposal. You know, this is the breadbasket of America. This is the—you know, there’s millions of Americans that depend on Ogallala Aquifer for both their agricultural economic sector and for their municipal water supply.

And so, you know, there’s a lot of—I would call the call for jobs and the economic benefits being put on the table by TransCanada and proponents of this pipeline quite simply propaganda. This is big oil trying to get this oil to international markets. The ending route for the Keystone XL Pipeline is a tax-free zone there in Port Arthur, Texas. It’s for international shipment to the highest bidder and has absolutely nothing to do with national energy security or creating jobs.

NOOR: Well, I want to thank you both for joining us. Clayton Thomas-Muller and Steve Horn.

HORN: Thanks for having me.

THOMAS-MULLER: Thanks for having us.

NOOR: And we’ll certainly keep following this story. You can see all of our coverage on the Keystone XL Pipeline at

Thank you so much for joining us.

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