Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Keystone XL pipeline opposition grows

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We have suggested many times on this blog that there should be a ban on political lobbying.  What they call, “lobbying” in the US is a well organized bribery campaign, but most Americans know this and are disgusted with the millionaires and billionaires that have a monopoly of the political process through the two Wall Street parties.

BusinessWeek’s February 27th issue has an interesting piece on the energy industry and the Keystone XL pipeline. It presents some interesting facts about the industry, its relationship with the government and why Obama is stalling on opposing the pipeline outright.

Obama promised in his 2014 State of the Union Address to leave our grandchildren a “safer, more stable world” and he is doing his best through an aggressive and productive drone program that allows the US to kill people without losing any American lives.  This is very important as the present wars are very unpopular domestically and a significant increase in US military deaths would tip the scales heavily in favor of the anti-war crowd. As it is, the military is a huge consumer of energy, especially fossil fuels.

But there is no doubt that there are divisions within the US ruling class over the severity of the environmental crisis.  Clearly, that wing of the 1% that is heavily invested in energy are behind the slogan “drill baby drill” and support the construction of the XL pipeline.  Those more connected to the tech sector, finance or entertainment and the more forward thinking of them recognize that the system itself is threatened by the environmental catastrophe that lies ahead if a more rational market approach is not taken.

The problem is that the energy industry is so integrated with the state and always has been.  Obama himself pointed this out in a speech at Georgetown University last year, “And because billions of your tax dollars continue to still subsidize some of the most profitable corporations in the history of the world, my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in the clean-energy companies that will fuel our future.”

BusinessWeek argues, correctly I would say, that Obama is the “…president of a petro state, a country that ranks as an OPEC nation in all but name. And in a petro state, saying no to Big Oil is never easy.”  Looking at it this way, we would not expect a Saudi or Iranian or Nigerian politician (at least one in a capitalist party) to openly challenge the oil industry either.

As a petro state, US imperialism had a tremendous advantage over its rivals. Japan, Britain, the EU for example as these are energy consumers in the main, they rely on imports, especially Japan.  The US however is looking to become the world’s largest oil producer if it isn’t already, a position it once held in the 1930’s with the discovery of oil in Texas, Oklahoma and California Business Week adds.

We have to consider the overall effect of this development.  Having its own energy supply was a tremendous advantage in wartime. As Business Week points out it also contributed to the 25 year post war boom which cemented the US’s position as the world’s dominant superpower. It has been speculated that more goods and services were produced during the 25 years after the Second World War than all human history that preceded it. Domestically it meant more cars, more steel, more roads, more transportation and more jobs.

It is no wonder that the US government subsidized such a profit-making bonanza. That it built freeways and roads as opposed to expanding public transportation and railways is a result of the growth of the fossil fuel industry.

As Marx explained, "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" and when their media talks about the national interest, it means the national interests of the 1% the ruling class or what Marx refers to as the “Bourgeoisie”  

The US government has subsidized the energy industry to the tune of billions of dollars, not simply because we need fuel, but because the fossil fuel industry is so incredibly profitable. Business Week:
“Washington has showered the oil and gas industries with far more tax breaks and other subsidies than any other energy source. Oil and gas received roughly two-thirds of all such subsidies from 1918 to 2009, averaging $4.86 billion a year (in 2010 dollars), according to an analysis by DBL Investors, a venture capital firm in San Francisco. These numbers exclude the cost of deployment of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf to ensure that the industry’s product can reach the U.S. market. This subsidy alone had a $235 billion a year price tag from 1976 to 2007, according to Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Princeton University.”

The dollars spent bribing legislators alone would most likely provide free education for all. Big Oil, with Exxon and the Koch brother in the lead says BW, contributed $365 million to congressional and presidential politics from 1990 to the present and spent $140 million a year bribing politicians since 2008.

It should come as no surprise then that the recent report commissioned by the US State Department that determined the XL Pipeline would have a “negligible impact” on climate change was prepared by the consulting firm Environmental Resources Management that was recommended for the job by TransCanada, the company that is expected to build the pipeline. We should recall that the US regulators responsible for deep water drilling allowed the energy industry to write its own regulations. It’s standard practice for these folks as is the response to concerns about conflict of interest; a State Department review of the matter said that ERM’s business ties to TransCanada had no impact on the consulting firm’s findings.

This does not mean there is no force pulling in the other direction. Some 77,000 people have signed the Keystone Pledge of Resistance promising to occupy building sites and block construction equipment in order to halt production.  Just last week there were Protests in numerous US cities including outside the White House and many were arrested;  no Keystone XL! is the message. Over 100 actions are planned at strategic targets across the United States with a network of tens of thousands ready to take bold dignified acts of civil disobedience. BusinessWeek also points out that a recent Nebraska court ruling struck down a previous law that gave the state’s governor the right authority to “single-handedly” approve a route through the state.

The opposition to XL is significant and the indigenous communities are playing a significant role in
the opposition’s forces.  This is no small mater and is undoubtedly a factor in influencing the 1%’s stand on this.  Their argument is that the product will end up on the world market one way or another whether through rail, shipping or a pipeline.

As we have said many times, the issue of the environment is probably the most serious threat facing humanity.  If the ravages of market forces are not halted, there will be huge swathes of the planet rendered uninhabitable by the capitalist mode of production and at some stage we will reach a point of no return. It is no exaggeration to say that capitalism will destroy life as we know if not discarded and replaced by a rational, planned system of production between a global Federation of Democratic Socialist states.  The production of energy, a critical human need, cannot be left to profit and the forces of the market if we are to survive as a species.

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