Another Keystone oil spill, another obvious reason to fund the EPA

Another Keystone oil spill, another obvious reason to fund the EPA
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The Keystone 1 pipeline spilled 210,000 gallons of oil near a small town in South Dakota Thursday. The last Keystone spill in April 2016 contaminated Hutchinson County, South Dakota with 400 barrels of oil, and took around 10 months to clean up. This disaster is expected to take longer.

Keystone 1 carries 590,000 barrels crude oil per day from Alberta's oil sands to markets in the United States. The pipeline is operated by TransCanada Corp. — the same company pushing for approval of the contested Keystone XL pipeline. The Nebraska Public Service Commission is expected to decide the fate of the Keystone XL proposed expansion on Nov. 20, which would traverse the state, though state law does not allow pipeline safety to be a factor in the commission’s decision.


When permitted to crisscross America, pipeline spills are inevitable. They threaten our communities, our land and our drinking water supply. The Keystone 1 pipeline’s defects include “dents, faulty welds, and pinholes in some sections enough to see daylight through,” according to environmental scientist James Conca.


The Keystone 1 is not the only pipeline that should be watched vigilantly; hundreds of miles of pipelines operated by Enbridge Oil lie beneath the Great Lakes and threaten drinking water resources for over 30 million people.  

Who responds immediately to these historic oil spills and other infamous ones like Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon and the Enbridge Kalamazoo River? The Environmental Protection Agency. But, the Trump administration has laid siege to EPA with zealous, anti-regulation Republican lawmakers not far behind.

The House fiscal 2018 Appropriations bill cuts to EPA’s overall funding are $656 million below the fiscal 2017 level.

The real threat to our safety is in the details. That House bill cuts Environmental Programs and Management (EPM) to 24 percent below last year’s level. That cut will devastate the fund that pays for more than two-thirds of EPA’s workforce, including the essential staff — scientists and toxicologists ready to act. That expense supports critical functions including enforcement of anti-pollution rules, supervision of states that implement those requirements, air and water quality monitors and measurements and safety standards.

A 24 percent cut to the EPA’s EPM fund would result in thousands of engineers and inspectors losing their jobs. Also, a reduced budget would leave the American people high and dry during environmental emergencies like frequent pipeline spills. The Senate should reject the House Appropriations bill, which devastates staffing and EPA’s ability to afford a cleaner, healthier future.

Americans assume the risks, while Canada, China and Latin America profit. The Keystone XL promotes the export of Canadian tar sands oil and its refined products to non-U.S. markets, especially China and Latin America. It would be some solace, I suppose, if Keystone XL Pipeline were to benefit us. But the U.S. tragically experiences more spills and pollution, and costlier clean-up burdens.

Besides achieving steep industry profits, what is the upshot? Fossil fuels receive four times more taxpayer subsidies than clean energy while renewables create three times the number of domestic jobs. Financing fossil fuel infrastructure and adding capacity to move that oil exacerbates the climate crisis.

Since Trump announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, more than 2,500 local leaders from 50 states signed the “We are still in” declaration. Those leaders represent more than half of all Americans in areas responsible for nearly 10 percent of the total global emissions. Prolonging the use of coal, oil and natural gas, and their deregulated emissions speed up climate change. Energy independence is only part of the equation. America must take this opportunity to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels altogether, and build cleaner renewable energy facilities.  

Spending precious resources fighting over a carbon-rich and methane polluting pipeline as the destruction of our natural resources deepens is short-sighted to the extreme. Rather than authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, it is time to hire construction workers to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. We must replace our lead drinking water pipes, modernize our sewer systems and reduce raw sewage discharging to lakes and streams. We must repair our weakened electricity grid, aging bridges, strained air traffic control system...the list goes on.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission should cast its vision to a future free of fossil fuels, and shut down the Keystone XL. Endorsing more pipelines does not move us to a sustainable future. 

John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals #238 representing over 9,000 bargaining unit employees at the U.S. EPA nationwide.