CFJC’s Public Comment on Keystone XL

Below you will find our public comment on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Feel free to use any portion of our message and incorporate it into your own. Final comments are due today, Friday, March 7, by 11:59 pm, submitted online here or by mail to the address below. Also view our comment as a PDF here.


U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn. Keystone XL Pipeline Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20520

 March 7, 2014

To State Department Staff:

The Community Food and Justice Coalition believes that the Keystone XL Pipeline is not in our nation’s best interest, and we urge you to reject the project permit. United States is currently highly dependent on fossil fuel energy sources that are non-renewable, non-environmentally friendly, and unsustainable. Energy retrieved from fossil fuels is limited and very expensive for tax payers and the environment—both of which have been paying high prices for decades now. The government spends billions of dollars to support the energy industry, allowing energy to cost less than it should through subsidies, in the form of tax breaks and direct spending. According to the Environmental Law Institute,[i] renewable energy sources have received a total of $12.2 billion in subsidies from 2002 and 2008, while the fossil fuels industry has received a total of $70.2 billion in subsidies. At a time when fossil fuel options are increasingly scarce and projected effects to our people and the land lead to injustices we have yet to fully understand, government consideration to authorize projects such as the Keystone XL Pipeline seems ill-advised at best.

The company responsible for the Keystone XL Pipeline, TransCanada, is not known for its state of the art spill free facilities. In a 2011 National Energy Board Draft Report,[ii] TransCanada’s subsidiary NOVA Gas Transmission was criticized for inadequate field inspections and ineffective management. The same report reveals that the Peace River Mainline has a historically high rate of ruptures (Northwestern Alberta) since 1970. Additionally, The Alberta pipeline’s rupture rate is five times higher than Canada’s national rupture rate, reported in a 2004 study by Canada’s National Energy Board.[iii] Furthermore, the existing TransCanada Keystone pipeline, completed in 2010, has had 14 spills since operations began.[iv] However, these facts were not mentioned in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released by the Department of State. Additionally, there are several areas that could be severely impacted by this project that did not get their most deserved attention throughout the Final SEI or the Environmental Impact Statement Draft in 2011 as follows:

A. The Deterioration of our Country, the People and the Land:

The tar-sands oil is known to contain more sulfur, nitrogen, and metals (lead, nickel, mercury, arsenic) than conventional crude oil. Moreover, several studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the Open Conservation of Biology Journal, and the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, have studied the contamination of the Athabasca oil sands region and found Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds (PACs), and the subset of PACs, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAHs), due to the development of bitumen resources. The listed compounds are considered toxic under Canadian Federal Law due to their detrimental effects on people and the environment. These toxins can contribute to health problems including heart and lung disease, asthma, and cancer, particularly in communities surrounding the sites.[v] In 2006, the Fort Chipewyan community, located downstream to the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada, which runs near tar sands operations, reported a high rate of rare cancers. A study was conducted by Alberta Health in 2008, and “confirmed a 30% rise in the number of cancers between 1995-2006,”[vi] a conservative calculation by Fort Chipewyan residents’ standards.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is proposed to cross six U.S. states, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, cutting through Native American treaty territories and key waterways, and routing through historically known areas for tribes like the Ponca, ironically roughly following the Ponca Trail of Tears.[vii][viii][ix] Native American tribes such as the Lakota Nation have continually voiced their concerns that the construction of this pipeline possibly cross and permanently destroy several archeological sites, and damage unknown ancient burial areas. It is high time the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, established to provide protection for the Native burial sites and artifacts, be honored.

B. Leaks, Spills, and the Real Damage:

According to a 2004 “Analysis of Ruptures and Trends on Major Canadian Pipeline Systems Study” by the National Energy Board, the Alberta pipeline’s rupture rate is five times higher than Canada’s national rupture rate. Because tar sands oil contains more sulfur, nitrogen, and metals (lead, mercury, arsenic) than conventional crude oil, it can be more corrosive to pipelines than crude oil.[x] Consequently, leaks and spills can be more common in such projects and are significantly more challenging to clean up. Between 2000 and 2009, pipeline accidents were responsible for 2,794 significant incidents and 161 fatalities in the United States. Furthermore, a 2011 Canada National Energy Board Draft Report showed that the Peace River Mainline has a historically high rate of ruptures.[xi]

C. The Importance of Our Water Sources and Food Supply:

As the Keystone XL Pipeline would route very close to the Ogallala Aquifer, where potential spills could contaminate this critical water source. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the world’s largest aquifers, lying under portions of eight states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.[xii] About 27% of the irrigated land in the U.S. overlies the aquifer, which yields about 30% of ground water used in irrigation. The aquifer system supplies drinking water to 82% of the 2.3 million people who live within the boundaries of the High Plains area. According to the United States State Department Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, a large crude oil spill from the Keystone XL Pipeline that reaches the Ogallala Aquifer could spread as far as 1,214 feet with dissolved components spreading as much as 1,050 feet further. The Ogallala Aquifer is not only a major water source, but it sits surrounded by the great agricultural belt of the United States and one of the most intensively cultivated regions in the country. A possible spill would turn this natural water source toxic, causing a drastic decrease in food production, further limiting food access, and threaten surrounding communities’ well water.

As several states are suffering from severe ongoing droughts, it is reprehensible that we authorize the infrastructure that will surely lead to the continuation and increased practice of this destructive extraction process. Tar sands extraction uses three barrels of water to extract one barrel of oil, with more than 90% of the water used ending up as toxic waste, an incredible misuse of our valuable water resources.[xiii] Additionally, the tar sands industry releases 13 elements considered pollutants under the U.S. Clean Water Act (including lead, mercury, and arsenic) into the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada.[xiv]

D. Real Impact of Sustainable Renewable Energy Sources:

Renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal are naturally restored and by name, renewable. Without any other considerations of environmental degradation from extraction processes for non-renewable energy sources, investment in renewable energy infrastructure is the only logical path forward for our international relations and the national interest in our land, our people, and our economy. As environmentally unfriendly projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline continue to shift our focus to unsustainable energy options, it is critical that the more viable and cleaner options are fully explained, understood, and accepted as the new norm for sustainable development. Sustainable development and climate change should be guiding the new energy development norms as they are directly related to a balanced and resourceful energy solution. In Massachusetts, the Governor has set a wind goal of 2,000 megawatts by 2020, stating that “a single [megawatt] turbine on land can provide enough electricity to power 225 to 300 households.”[xv] And West Virginia has great geothermal potential, whereby “the state could provide 18,890 megawatts of power using today’s geothermal technology — more than the state’s entire power generation capacity of 16,350 megawatts, most of which comes from coal.”[xvi]

We must diverge from our current norm of continuously relying on coal and oil as the only and best option available, when we have so much natural diversity to tap into within the United States for renewable energy sources. The amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the production of tar sands oil is three times that of conventional oil and gas production, with tar sands fields in Alberta as Canada’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

While countries like Germany lead the way in the evolution of solar power, the United States seems to be unable to let go of the fossil fuel driven industry and embrace the new stage of research and development of new and renewable sources of energy. Eighteen of our country’s top climate scientists oppose the Keystone XL project, and have publicly urged President Obama not to approve the permit due to the facts of its potential climate impacts.[xvii] Peter Gleick, a scientist who specializes in the connections between water and climate change, wrote that while the pipeline itself is “not a game changing or planet-threatening project,” it is part of “a far larger picture … of potential planetary disaster.”[xviii]

E. Debunking the Job Creation Myth:

TransCanada has been touting the creation of 20,000 new jobs to appease those unhappy with the path of the United States’ economic state, but the real figures do not go as high as half that. The final Environment Impact Statement estimated there would be approximately 5,000 to 6,000 direct construction jobs in the United States for the two years of pipeline construction, and a Cornell University Global Labor Institute report found that the pipeline would “create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs.”[xix] Furthermore, the creation of permanent jobs is estimated to exceed no more than 40. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, wind, solar, and biomass industries can provide as much as 100% more jobs than the coal and natural gas industry.[xx] The United States is in need of job creation, but our jobs need to be rooted in growing our national economy, local communities, and hold a general eye toward the future.

F. Closing Statement

This is the first occasion that the Community Food and Justice Coalition (CFJC) has chosen to provide public comments on the Keystone XL project, but that does not mean we have not been following the project for years. By the time U.S. Dept. of State staff receives ours, it will no doubt be just one among tens of thousands of public comments, because the egregious nature of the Keystone pipeline is pushing the public past the point of complacency with business as usual, orchestrated by an energy industry bent on bankrupting the U.S. economy and destroying our environment. Presidents past and present weigh the lesser of evils and speak out, as if we have no choice but to continue the insane fossil fuel path of self-destruction. And why? So that a select group of corporate interests can squeeze the last cents of profit for an industry bereft of the values upon which our country was founded?

Because of the surreal nature of the process, State Dept. staff has an opportunity to frame public comments in common sense terms that Americans can intuitively understand—that it makes no sense to endanger our aquifers when climate change and drought already push communities to the edge of viability; when Native Americans have documented the harm Keystone harbors for their culture and reservations; when the danger of spills and pipe ruptures is weighed against the trumped up need for fossil fuels. It is the 21st century, and grade school children know that alternative sources of energy are within our collective grasp.

It is time to stop paying allegiance to the industry that has driven us to the brink of ecological and economic disaster. It is time to demand our leaders turn away from a policy of industry appeasement that demeans the duty they have to us, the people and lands of the United States. It is time our political and industry leaders, and our public servants, demand more of themselves, and deliver better public policy for us all.

Stopping the Keystone XL project should be the turning point. It can be.

Together, we all can make it so, and create an economy, energy policy and industry that we deserve. If we demand and work for it.


YAN e-sig


Y. Armando Nieto
Executive Director
Community Food and Justice Coalition

[iv] National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 2011. Say

no to tar sands pipeline: Proposed Keystone XL project

would deliver dirty fuel at a high cost

[xi] National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 2011. Say

no to tar sands pipeline: Proposed Keystone XL project

would deliver dirty fuel at a high cost

[xiv] National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 2011. Say

no to tar sands pipeline: Proposed Keystone XL project

would deliver dirty fuel at a high cost


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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

If you believe in these principles JOIN CFJC NOW.

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