Religious groups voice displeasue with Senate's Keystone XL approval

The Senate’s affirmative vote on the Keystone XL transnational pipeline Thursday came to the disappointment of numerous faith groups, who view the project as harmful to the environment and human health, both now and in the future.

The Senate voted 62-36 in favor of building the controversial pipeline, which would transport daily 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada’s Alberta tar sands across six states to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Construction would occur along the project’s northern leg, which would run 1,179 miles south from Alberta to southern Nebraska; the southern leg, which begins in Cushing, Okla., went into operation a year ago. 

The Keystone bill now travels to the House, where representatives will either vote on the Senate version or a modified bill merging it with their own legislation, The New York Times reported.

President Barack Obama has stated he would veto such a bill from Congress, instead preferring for the State Department -- which has jurisdiction since the pipeline would cross an international border -- to first complete its review of the project before making his decision. A case at the Nebraska Supreme Court, which had stalled the federal review, concluded earlier this month, approving the proposed route through the state.  

The Republican-led 114th Congress vowed to make Keystone’s approval their first objective. Proponents view the pipeline as a jobs creator and an important component of U.S. energy independence, while opponents have questioned the number of long-term positions, how much oil would remain in the U.S., and its overall impact on the climate.

After the Senate bill passed, religious groups, including Catholics, expressed disappointment in the decision, and urged Obama to use his veto.

"This project will further degrade the earth and the integrity of the land in this country. We plead with you, President Obama to put an end to this ‘pipe dream’ once and for all," Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA​, said. 

“Approving the Keystone XL pipeline signals to the world that we are not serious about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Sr. Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

McDermott, as did several others, pointed to potential harm the pipeline could have not only to the land but on the health of the indigenous people who live near the Alberta tar sands pits, and those who live near refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

“We see the XL pipeline as harmful to the earth and harmful to the most vulnerable communities whom we serve,” said Gerry Lee, director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns.

“The project is wrong on many levels," Notre Dame School Sr. Ann Scholz, associate director for the social mission of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said. "It threatens local ecosystems; endangers the health of local communities; feeds our addiction to fossil fuels; and adds to global warming which threatens our planet home.” 

Last March, the State Department released its environmental impact report, concluding that the pipeline would pose little environmental risk because demand for the oil would remain whether Keystone was constructed or not. At the same time, it acknowledged tar sands oil emits 17 percent more greenhouse gases than an average barrel of refined crude oil, and that it would emit annually anywhere from 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents -- the latter figure roughly the same as 5.7 million cars.

The amount of of carbon emissions has been the focus for environmentalists, who also worry what message building Keystone would send globally regarding the U.S.’s commitment to addressing climate change.

“The Keystone XL pipeline will continue our reliance on fossil fuels, which often have a disastrous effect on the world’s climate and environment. As a world citizen and child of our Creator, we need to stand in care of our climate and in care of creation,” said Eli McCarthy, justice and peace director for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, said that Catholics must use their voices to speak for the world’s poor, children and future generations to demand “emergency planetary mobilization” on climate change.

“There is no shortage of positive solutions available to us to address this crisis. What is lacking is the moral courage to implement at the speed and scale needed to avert the worst of climate chaos,” he said.

Since May, polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans favoring the construction of the pipeline, hovering between 56 and 60 percent.

Respondents to a Jan. 12-15 ABC News/Washington Post poll were asked whether they supported the authorization of Keystone now, or if it should wait for the governmental review to conclude. Sixty-one percent said the review should be completed before a decision is made, while 34 percent said it should be authorized without presidential approval.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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