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Boon? Or Bust?

By David Norlin
Analysis | October 7, 2010

SALINA, Kan. - "Boon!"  was the headline for Tim Unruh's Salina Journal piece Sunday, Sept. 26.  It laid out how Clay Center (and Herington, Junction City, Abilene, and many others) are laying out the welcome mat for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

Count the benefits:  Bud's Tire service sales tripling, with guaranteed overstock buyout/bailout; referrals for boat sales, doctors, and dentists; full restaurants; swelling campground rentals; pipeline spouses as public service volunteers; pump station/power generation cash cutting Clay Center's electric rates "up to" twenty percent; six million dollars for a 14.5-mile transmission line; and most heart-warmingly, 1,000 charity bucks from TransCanada and 500 from the pipeline company for Clay Center's Orchestra, which just lost funding from the Kansas Arts Commission. 

This headline's more accurate, long-term: "Boondoggle!"  These transient benefits last only till November -- with potential damage to our land lasting at least a hundred years, perhaps far longer.  Or, there's "Boom!"  And later,  "Bust!"

A more heartening headline beside it is, "Land Institute opens New Door." Referring to The Land's new building for research and perennial seed storage, the story also invites us through some new doors of thinking. Some years hence, The Land's $2 million investment (a mere one-third the cost of that puny 6-mill, 15-mile transmission line) may reach round the world to pipe real food sustainability into local agricultural economies.

Keystone XL's project is a pipeline to the pollution of the past, the Land's to the food of the future.

Then why is Keystone being built? Follow the money. TransCanada and the oil companies have the Big Bucks ($12 billion). TC simply siphons transportation money off the Big Boys (BP, Shell, Exxon/Mobil, Conoco, etc.), who mine and refine Alberta's tar sands.

Why did Clay Center's Orchestra lose funding from the KS Arts Commission? Because Kansas has less and less money.

And why does Kansas (including Kansas counties) have less and less money? For one reason, state government eco-devo folks, promoting more refinery output and larger oil profits, granted Keystone XL a 10-year tax exemption. Therefore, Clay County and others getting this one-time windfall will get not one red cent of citizen tax money for a decade. Worse, no other state granted such exemptions. For a decade, no money to improve schools, law enforcement and fire protection for Clay Center, Washington, Herington, Junction City, Abilene and many others. In Marion County alone, the 10-year loss is over $50 million. For that, you can blame short-sighted representatives and State officials, many voted in by us at the polls.

Another great irony: We don't need the oil. Senator Emler of McPherson, Utilities Committee chair, pushed for the exemption, despite the fact that no incentive was necessary. Coffeyville and NCRA McPherson had already signed contracts with TransCanada. Then as late as this past April, with pipeline construction costs (and consequent refinery oil costs) soaring, both sued TransCanada to get out of those contracts. What. A. Mess.

This is not to impugn local citizens nor pipeline workers. Without Kansans' self-sacrifice and caring for neighbors, life would be far worse. The pipeline company also encourages voluntary service and punishes bad behavior with firing. So far, so good. But TransCanada knows a good public image is crucial.

Why? The devastation caused by Big Oil is undeniable. They want to put the best face possible on an earth-devastating project. Would you take a buzz saw to your living room floor, then burn the rest to black char? They are. Miles of ancient Boreal forests and two billion tons of rock and soil are stripped and trashed. Bitumen tar, heated to 900 degrees fahrenheit, emits up to three times the greenhouse gas of regular drilling and refining. This process is only one reason the tar sands are the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.

Consider Alberta's water, which is in the toilet. The oil industry sucks up and poisons 15 percent of the Athabasca River's winter flow--enough for a city of 2 million. Some 2.9 million gallons per day of arsenic/mercury slurry leach daily. Cancer is rampant.
This is no small project. Tar sand wasteland will eventually stretch 54,000 square miles. Far from Canada invading us, we will have trashed Canada--without ever leaving home. And then there's the possibility of yet another pipeline oil spill here, with car wash pressures of 1440 psi. Hardly a good neighbor policy, on either side of the border.
We must open new doors to thinking, unimpeded by political bromides or feckless finger-pointing. Our land and ourselves will sustain us, not some fly-by, absentee, out-of-state Savior. As Wendell Berry points out, a lasting community invests in itself by "keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, [and] teaching its children."

Cutting taxes and pushing against government by electing more of the same is not an answer. A sustaining community of diverse neighbors is. It's high time Kansans started talking about it, voting for it, and working toward it.

You can start that discussion in your town, church, or neighborhood. Want help? Visit www.transitionus.org.

It could be a lasting boon to your community.


1 Comment

Excellent post, David. The issue of fossil fuel profits and global warming denial are obviously connected. I hope you can encourage friends to attend Dr. Oreskes' presentation at K-State, KU, or Fort Hays Oct. 18, 19, 20 respectively. Details in my most recent post.


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