Political Flavors


Hear No Evil – Trump isn’t really suddenly an Environmentalist

Posted in Editorials on November 23rd, 2016
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Have you heard the news?! Donald Trump said he might do something about climate change!

From The New York Times:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

Not so fast.

Remember that personnel is policy and Donald Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change denier to oversee the EPA transition team. If he really cared about the environment, he would have appointed someone who actually has a good record on environmental issues. I can think of several Republicans who might be up for the task: Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Christie Todd Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even Michael Bloomberg would be a good pick.

Over the weeks and months ahead, all kinds of random things are going to come out for Donald Trump’s mouth. Some of them might even sound really good. But before you breathe a sigh of relief, think about whatever he said for two seconds, and ask yourself “How does this measure up against what he has done?” This is so important because most media outlets will not fact check adequately. The original New York Times headline for this story was “Donald Trump says he has ‘An Open Mind’ on Climate Change Accord” and did not mention Ebell’s record of climate change denial, even though it’s incredibly relevant to his statement.

Image Credit: Melanie’s Crafting Spot Cliparts.co

President Obama and Bear Grylls, the next Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir?

Posted in Editorials on August 31st, 2015
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Today’s news that President Obama will be on Running Wild with Bear Grylls has many fans excited for what promises to be fascinating television.

According to USA Today:

The president and the host will be trekking through the Alaskan wilderness. The episode, to be taped, will air on NBC later this year. It will highlight the effects of climate change in that area.

This is a great way to educate people on this important issue and it might even lead to policy changes. I’m especially hopeful because of the historical precedent.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt went on a camping trip with John Muir in Yosemite. Muir founded the Sierra Club and was one of the first American conservationists and advocates for Yosemite. Although his thin build and long beard don’t project the same image of rugged masculinity as Grylls does today, Muir was known for taking risks in the wilderness – climbing trees during windstorms so he could better understand both the tree and the power of the storm. The famous trip Roosevelt and Muir took together led to federal protections for Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. There’s an interesting account of their journey in the Ken Burns documentary series “America’s Best Idea.”

It’s not a new idea that conservation and recreation go hand in hand. We need to protect the national parks, public space and wilderness that we have and fighting climate change is part of that.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s recent decision to allow Shell to drill in the arctic makes his conservation themed trip to Alaska seem hypocritical. But in the time he has left in his presidency, there will be other permit applications, and other decisions – like the one on the Keystone XL Pipeline – which he will have to make. Perhaps once he has seen the destruction that is taking place he will reconsider making it worse.

It would be ironic if a genre as problematic as reality television could steer us back on course to a greener planet. But as we have seen with his usage of Buzzfeed and “Between Two Ferns” to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance, President Obama is good at using new media to advance his agenda. And while the new 1560 page Clean Power Plan doesn’t easily lend themselves to a viral video, a camping trip with Bear Grylls certainly does.

My Favorites of 2014

Posted in Editorials on December 31st, 2014
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All the best in 2015. Here’s some of my favorite things from 2014.

Link Roundup – Some of these are long reads, and some are shorter. Here’s some posts from the year I hope you didn’t miss.
Dear America, I Saw You Naked
Popular Delusions: Sovereign Citizens
Survey: Overwhelming Majority Of U.S. Doctors Seeing Patients With Drug-Resistant Illnesses
Invisible Politics
Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior
Why Did Anti-Choice Activists Harass Unitarians in New Orleans?

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner speaking at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in 2014

Books
My favorite book of 2014 is a novella published as an ebook by Atavist Books. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps’ reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor…

Sleep Donation is so engaging I couldn’t put it down. The universe is rich and easy to get lost in. A quick and very satisfying read.

Honorable Misandry Mention:
Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation by Laura Kipnis
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Television
My favorite new show of 2014 is Broad City on Comedy Central. I first heard Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on the Ronna & Beverly podcast. I immediately became a fan of their hilarious web series. It was originally supposed to be on FX, but they cancelled the show and then Comedy Central Picked it up. I swear I remember articles at the time that FX didn’t know how to market a show about women to advertisers, but those links seem to have disappeared. But I’m so glad the show came to be. It’s the funniest thing on television.

Honorable Mention:
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Adam and I subscribed to HBO to watch this show. John Oliver is brilliant.

I watched every episode of Married at First Sight on the new FYI network. I liked it, but I feel kind of guilty about that. Ultimately I think the show was somewhat exploitative of the couples. But I suppose that’s the point of reality television. Here’s some thoughts from Sarah Moglia Is “Married at First Sight” a Legitimate Science Experiment?

Music
The PinkPrint by Nicki Minaj. (More about all of my feels for Nicki Minaj here.)

Honorable Mention
Barefoot and Pregnant by the Dollyrots.

Movies

As everyone has probably already seen Guardians of the Galaxy and Birdman, and Horns disappointed me because it took out almost everything that made the book was so amazing, I’m going to recommend everyone go see Particle Fever right now.

This movie is accessible to people with all levels of scientific understanding. I’ve never taken a day of Physics in my life and I didn’t feel that lost at all. “Why do humans do science? Why do they do art? The things that are least important for our survival are the very things that make us human.”


Unitarian Universalism

I have to share these videos by some of my fellow UUs.

Here’s “Love Reaches Out” a song written about the theme of this year’s General Assembly

The Reeb Project is a movement to restore the Voting Rights Act in the United States by All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. It’s named after Rev James Reeb a Unitarian minister who was beaten to death while protesting against segregation in Selma Alabama in 1965. This summer, The Reeb Project held a protest, and it’s the first (and possibly only) flash mob video I will share on this blog.

Other people’s Year End Posts You Should Read
It’s Been a Terrible Year for Reproductive Rights
The Frozen River: A Humanist Sermon

Political Flavors
Most popular posts on this blog this year:
Contradictions made by people insulting my husband (AKA, Misogynist Troll Insult Fails Part 2)
“That’s some training to give to girls.” The criminalization of female self defense

My favorite posts from the year:
Out, Damned Sperm! Why Everyone Is Freaked Out About Fruit Flies.
Our mockery of Fox Sports Sexism
Who Will Be The Next Republican To Endorse Andrew Cuomo?
The Untenable Incel
Red Pillers – Very Concerned about Ladies’ Fashion

Previously: My favorites of 2013

Komen isn’t the only hypocrite about breast cancer.

Posted in Editorials on October 8th, 2014
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So right now the internet is awash with the irony that is the pink drill bit that the Susan G Komen foundation is hyping to promote breast cancer awareness. They painted a fracking tool pink to raise awareness about a disease that is caused by fracking. Because this is the world that we live in today.

Just as the pro life movement doesn’t seem to care about the impact of pollution on fetuses, it seems like many aspects of the Breast Cancer Awareness movement make hypocritical mistakes. Until this year, Avon, which sponsors a walk for breast cancer, also sold cosmetics laden with carcinogens. They agreed to make their products safer in April 2014. Right now, the campaign for safe cosmetics is pressuring Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Cover Girl, Max Factor, Olay, and Pantene to do the same for their products.

I’m glad that corporations want to give to charitable causes. But it’s hard to take them seriously when they are claiming to try and solve a problem they had a direct impact in creating without first doing as much as they can to stop filling our bodies and our environment with carcinogens.

Related Post: I Speak For The Lorax

How Andrew Cuomo can win my vote.

Posted in Editorials on September 10th, 2014
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As I knew it was an incredibly long shot, I am not too disappointed that Zephyr Teachout lost her primary bid last night. She made a strong showing and I am very happy with the message that she sent.

But this leaves me with the question of what to do in November. I’m not voting for an antichoice, antigay Republican like Rob Astorino. So Howie Hawkins of the Green Party is looking pretty good right now.

However, my opinion is not set in stone. Here’s how Andrew Cuomo (whom I voted for for both Attorney General AND Governor) can win me back.

1. Ban Fracking. You can read the Sierra Club’s explanation of the issue here. I used to think that a good middle ground on this issue would be to go back to the law as it was in 2005. Fracking used to be a lot less dangerous. Companies would use water, salt water or carbonated water to extract natural gas, rather than a mix of poisonous chemicals protected as proprietary trade secrets. However, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act. This is why states must take action to protect their drinking water supplies. (Congress isn’t going to repeal this loophole anytime soon.) But my opinion on this has changed recently. Bill McKibben’s editorial in Mother Jones explains why fracking has an even bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change than were previously thought. Governor Cuomo needs to ban fracking once and for all in New York State.

2. Explain what the hell happened with The Moreland Commission. Governor Cuomo set up a commission to investigate corruption and then stopped them from investigating his own office. Transparency does not work that way. Now, he is under federal investigation for his actions. He needs to explain himself.

3. Show some remorse over creating the IDC. Evidence has come to light that Governor Cuomo played a key role in the “rogue Democrats” that caucused with Republicans in the New York State Senate. This is unacceptable. The common wisdom is that he did this so that he would look more “bipartisan” and “moderate” when he wanted to run for president. Considering that this has come at a cost to his constituents, this is outrageous. The Women’s Equality Act, GENDA, a bill banning gay “conversion therapy” and the state version of the DREAM Act all suffered because of the IDC. Allowing Dean Skelos to retain control of the New York State Senate means that a true progressive agenda cannot be enacted. And for this, Governor Andrew Cuomo owes the people of New York an apology.

I seriously doubt that any of this will happen, much less all three of my requests. But this is what it would take to get me to vote Cuomo in November.

Climate Change Denier Admits He Doesn’t Care What The Truth Is

Posted in Editorials on June 3rd, 2014
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On Sunday night, against my better judgement, I started an argument with someone on the Cosmos Twitter hashtag. But in doing so I got at something I think environmentalists and climate change activists need to understand. Many people who deny that climate change is occurring do not care what the truth is.

This conversation is edited for space and clarity. See my twitter page for all comments.

I’m oversimplifying here a bit. But it is true. Coal and gasoline have the hidden costs of damage to public health.

I was referring to this article in Think Progress, “Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy.” Rob was incredulous at first but then he started quoting other sources about how this makes electricity more expensive.

But I didn’t say that renewable energy would be cheap or easy. My point in citing Germany as an example was a refutation of Rob’s assertion that we couldn’t do anything about climate change unless we “all go back to living like 1750.” It’s clearly not 1750 in Germany right now. The Germans are planning for the future, and trying to abate climate change as well. If we keep going the way we are now, we will face catastrophe.

Clearly missing the point here, Rob sees clean energy as some kind of money making scam. I wonder if he sees fire extinguishers and car air bags that way too?

And here’s when I first found out that the person I was talking to has no idea what the evidence for climate change is.

First he called me a Nazi:

Then he went back to “this is a money making scheme:

And finally, to his main point, that being contrary for the sake of being contrary is a good thing:

Claiming that the IPCC is just “a single source” and just some random website on the internet, revealed that Rob actually has no idea what the evidence for climate change actually is.

And he said yes.

But then he had to immediately make a joke about how silly this all is.

So although he has never looked at the evidence for climate change, it seems awfully silly and conformist to go along with, dont ya think? Almost like a religion! Rob clearly has no idea what the scientific method is, or why it works if he equates reading papers filed with data and then basing your views on public policy on that data is the same thing as religious faith. Science changes in response to new information. Religion does not.

And that, right there, is the money quote. For Rob, climate change denialism is not about moneyed interest in fossil fuels, a religious belief that God will protect the Earth, a misunderstanding of the scientific evidence, or even a failure to examine the information available to him. It doesn’t matter what the data is, he won’t believe it, no matter what, because to do so would make him a “sheep.” Nonconformity is more important to Rob than truth.

How to respond to people like this, I have no idea. But at least he told me why he believes what he does.

UPDATE: As I responded in my initial tweet to Rob, BRIC countries will probably decide to limit greenhouse gas emissions on their own. And China looks like they are heading that way right now.

Wonkery on the EPA and Dispersants

Posted in Editorials on April 25th, 2013
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On Monday, the Daily Beast published an article titled, “What BP Doesn’t Want You To Know About the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill” an expose that was in part about the toxic effects of Corexit, a dispersant manufactured by Nalco and used by BP in the Gulf of Mexico to clean up the oil spill.

It appears that people who were exposed to Corexit are now suffering severe health problems, including headaches, fatigue, muscle spasm, short term memory loss, bloody coughing fits, and painful nerve damage. BP was allowed to use Corexit, but they did not follow the safety instructions for use as outlined by the manufacturer, Nalco.

I was very curious as to how a dispersant like Corexit was approved in the first place, and to understand what it meant for the government to approve a dispersant with “confidential” ingredients.

In 1990, during the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act. One provision of the act was that companies must have a “plan to prevent spills that may occur” and have a “detailed containment and cleanup plan” for oil spills. This provision led to an update to the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1994, the EPA finalized rules which, in part created the National Contingency Plan (NCP) product schedule.

EPA maintains the NCP Product Schedule, which lists the following types of products that are authorized for use on oil discharges:

-Dispersants
-Surface washing agents
-Surface collecting agents
-Bioremediation agents
-Miscellaneous oil spill control agents

The full rules for the NCP are a part of the Code of Federal Regulations, and with regards to the process a manufacturer must undergo to have their dispersant listed in the NCP Product Schedule they state, in part:

300.915.a.10 Dispersing Agent Components.
Itemize by chemical name and percent-age by weight each component of the total formulation. The percentages will include maximum, minimum, and average weights in order to reflect quality control variations in manufacture or formulation. In addition to the chemical information provided in response to the first two sentences, identify the major components in at least the fol­lowing
categories:
surface
active
agents, solvents, and additives.

Additionally, it is stated that,

The submitter may assert that certain information in the technical product data submissions… is confidential business information… Such information must be submitted separately from non-confidential infor­mation, clearly identified, and clearly marked ‘‘Confidential Business Infor­mation.’’ If the submitter fails to make such a claim at the time of submittal, EPA may make the information available to the public without further no­tice.

It appears that Corexit was initially one of the products submitted with the ingredients marked confidential. But a quick perusal of the database shows that most of the products in the NCP schedule have at least some of their ingredients listed as “CONFIDENTIAL.”

The special handling instructions and worker precautions for Corexit state:

Avoid eye contact. In case of eye contact, immediately flush eyes with large amounts of water for at least 15 minutes. Get prompt medical attention. Avoid contact with skin and clothing. In case of skin contact, immediately flush with large amounts of water, and soap if available. Remove contaminated clothing, including shoes, after flushing has begun. If irritation persists, seek medical attention. For open systems where contact is likely, wear long sleeve shirt, chemical resistant gloves, and chemical protective goggles.

But as the Daily Beast detailed, these instructions were ignored.

In response to public outrage after Corexit had already been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, the ingredients were released, and listed them on a Q&A page about dispersants designed to respond to Frequently Asked Questions about the Gulf Oil Spill.

The ingredients for Corexit 9500A and 9527A are still not listed in the NCP database. This is probably a bureaucratic oversight. But unless you knew about the special FAQ, you couldn’t find the full list ingredients of Corexit.

In response, EPA Chief Lisa Jackson and Senator Lautenberg supported the “Safe Dispersants Act” introduced in July 2010, which

would require better testing, approval, and disclosure of the health effects of dispersants used in response to an oil spill under the National Contingency Plan. It would also require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a study to determine whether additional regulations are needed. The legislation would achieve the following:

Require testing on a wide range of acute and long-term environmental and health effects of specific chemical dispersants before they could be added to an approved products list.

Ban the use of dispersants that cannot be proven better for the environment and health than natural or mechanical removal of oil.

Require the public disclosure of both chemical dispersant ingredients and ingredient concentrations.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and no further action has been taken. Perhaps it’s time for another letter writing Sunday?

Cause for Optimism on Keystone

Posted in Editorials on April 23rd, 2013
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Although I am still unsure about the final outcome of the Keystone XL pipeline, there have been some developments in the past 24 hours that have made me feel very optimistic.

First, the EPA has released at statement that upon their review of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, they have rated the impact of the action as

EO (Environmental Objections) The review has identified significant environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to adequately protect the environment. Corrective measures may require substantial changes to the preferred alternative or consideration of some other project alternative (including the no action alternative or a new alternative).

and

(Insufficient Information) The draft EIS does not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment, or the reviewer has identified new reasonably available alternatives that are within the spectrum of alternatives analyzed in the draft EIS, which could reduce the environmental impacts of the proposal. The identified additional information, data, analyses, or discussion should be included in the final EIS.

Additionally, the EPA raises three concerns. First, that Keystone has not adequately addressed the greenhouse gas emissions of the project specifically because their argument that the tar sands will be developed anyway is a weak one, and they have not done enough to explain how this is the case, especially relating to the price of oil, and the railway infrastructure to ship it.

I’m really relieved that this isn’t flying, because it’s something that has been bothering me since I first read the executive summary of the dEIS, and something I included in my public comments. It is a bad argument caused by shoddy work at best, intentional deception at worst.

The EPA statement goes on to question the adequacy of the pipeline safety plan, and state that Keystone has not done enough to explain why alternate pipeline routes would not be a better alternative.

Next, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org and other environmental organizations have released their public comments on Keystone, which I haven’t had a chance to review in their entirety yet, but they raise similar concerns – that the consideration of the no action alternative was incomplete, that other alternatives haven’t been adequately considered, that the dEIS hasn’t addressed greenhouse gas emissions, and that tar sands oil is more difficult to clean up than other oil. They go farther than the EPA and criticize the dEIS for not sufficiently addressing Environmental Justice and tribal concerns, when the EPA applauded Keystone for good work in that area. Additionally, the Sierra Club et al raise procedural concerns; including that documents relevant to the dEIS were not released to the public.

I got a warm, fuzzy feeling reading about all of this today. The EPA and environmental NGOs are working as they are supposed to, and the idealists in the 1970′s who set up these procedures hoped they would act – in the best interests of the public. This is the first indication in years, if not ever at all, that the Obama administration may be opposed to Keystone XL. It’s highly unlikely that Cynthia Giles, the “top cop” of the EPA would release such a harsh rebuke without the administration on board. And this is a very good sign.

This past Saturday I was talking about Keystone XL with someone in my congregation and I was explaining how pessimistic I was about it and why. She asked me if there was any hope at all. I told her that if I was right, and the dEIS really shouldn’t have assumed the tar sands will be developed anyway, I trust that the Sierra Club will make it known in their public comments if not in a lawsuit. And some think that it is heading that way. It’s a really good feeling when that glimmer of hope becomes a giant ray of sunshine.

Earth Day 2013 – Hope Springs Eternal?

Posted in Editorials on April 22nd, 2013
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Despite my pessimism and cynicism about the Keystone XL Pipeline, I decided to submit a public comment anyway. This tip from a Council on Environmental Quality document called, “The Citizens Guide to NEPA” is in keeping with my understanding of the process:

Commenting is not a form of “voting” on an alternative. The number of negative comments an agency receives does not prevent an action from moving forward. Numerous comments that repeat the same basic message of support or opposition will typically be responded to collectively.

So I did not sign the numerous petitions that will be submitted today. Instead, I wrote a comment focusing on what I thought were the weakest part of the dEIS.

Dear Ms Genevieve Walker,

I am writing to voice concerns about the Keystone XL Pipeline draft Environmental Impact Statement. I have two main areas of concern – the impact of the project on climate change, and the ability to clean up any future oil spills.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement states that the impact on the climate will be negligible because the no action alternative assumes that the production and consumption of tar sands oil would remain unchanged. This is quite a large assumption to make considering the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that would be emitted from burning the tar sands and is resulting effect on our climate. It is my understanding that the no action alternative is meant to serve as a baseline/control measure, not as conjecture. Therefore I find it not only tremendously irresponsible to make this assumption but highly disingenuous. Although this dEIS appears to comply with the letter of the law I believe it to be incomplete until another scenario is added to the alternatives section which considers not building the Keystone Pipeline and no further development of the Canadian tar sands. I know that the United States has no control over Canadian companies, but the analysis is not complete without consideration of this scenario.

Secondly, I am concerned about the possibility of an oil spill within the United States. The dEIS states that measures would be put in place to prevent such a spill and that if one were to occur, procedures are in place to respond . However, the current spill of tar sands oil in Mayflower, Arkansas makes this plan highly suspect. It seems that the technology does not yet exist to adequately respond to a spill of tar sands oil.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Happy Earth Day.

Is it Too Late to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Posted in Editorials on March 20th, 2013
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In February, Adam and I went to a rally and march in Washington DC to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. On March 8, a draft Environmental Impact Statement was released for the project. The deadline for public comment is this coming April 22 – Earth Day.

As I have some experience with Environmental Impact Statements and I am a hopeless wonk, I decided to look over the document and see if there was anything I could comment on. The Sierra Club has created a petition on their website urging people so sign it and tell the President not to approve the project, but I wanted to see if I could take more direct action.

I’ve read the executive summary and a few sections that interested me in the full document. What I have found is discouraging.

It’s much later in the process than I had originally thought. This is the second draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, written to address the impacts of a new stretch of pipeline. The route of the original pipeline was the only thing objectionable enough for the project to not have been approved the first time.

The “no action” alternative assumes that the production and consumption of Tar Sands oil would remain unchanged. This seems like a giant assumption! It also seems to go against the spirit of the law. The no action alternative is meant to serve as a baseline/control measure, not as conjecture. This is also why the dEIS has been quoted as saying that Keystone XL is “unlikely to have an impact.” The document states that whether or not the project goes forward, there will be on impact on the rate of development of the Tar Sands – not climate change in general.

Obviously, a rebuttal to this point would be that the United States cannot control the actions of a Canadian corporation or the Canadian government. This is true, but I still find it highly disingenuous.

The dEIS also addresses Native American involvement in the project. Many Native American tribes were contacted and asked to participate in writing the dEIS and in identifying land they did not want the pipeline to go through. This seemed to be exactly the opposite of how the government was portrayed at the Forward On Climate rally. Leaders from several tribes spoke about how their wishes were being ignored and that they would be displaced by this project. After further research, most of these leaders were from Canada – and the dEIS does not have to address impact on Canadian First Nations people.

President Obama has recently announced that Environmental Impact Statements must address climate change. But because this document only applies to the pipeline itself, and not the burning of the oil it will transport – remember: it assumes that that oil will be burned no matter what happens, this announcement will not impact this project at all.

Bill McKibben has asked for people to call their Senators because another vote is going to be taken on the issue.

I’m trying to find some light at the end of the tunnel, some hope that this project can be stopped…and I got nothing. The Sierra Club, 350.org and others are moving public opinion, but not fast enough. The way the dEIS is written, with ridiculous assumptions that are apparently legal don’t leave any room for my objections. I wish I could say I trust the President to make the right decision, but I don’t.