Udall cannot avoid XL pipeline issue by deferring to President Obama

Mark Udall did not vote for Democratic and Republican amendments on the Keystone XL pipeline last year.

The reason, Udall spokesman Mike Saccone explained, is that the U.S. senator did not believe it was the role of the legislative branch to do so, according to The Hill blog,‘s Laura Baron-Lopez,

“Sen. Udall still believes Congress should not be injecting politics into the review process,” Saccone said.

Udall may be right in principle, since the future of the pipeline lies with the president, not Congress. However, the senator’s Republican opposition is not going to allow the issue to be taken from the table.

“The American Energy Alliance is spending over $400,000 on a new ad claiming Sen. Mark Udall … of opposing construction of the Keystone pipeline,” Baron-Lopez reported. The ad ran through May 23, accusing the senator of trying to kill the pipeline project.

Colorado Republican strategist Dick Wadhams offered a unique reason why Udall is against the Keystone XL pipeline. “I’m not sure why he [Udall] voted the way he did, other than he really believes in his vote, which really puts him out of the mainstream,” he said in a story by Valerie Richardson on The Colorado Observer blog.

Wadhams’ criticism refers to a nonbinding resolution introduced in the Senate last January to support construction of the Trans-Canada-owned XL pipeline. Udall voted against the resolution, while his junior colleague, Michael Bennet, voted for it.

The fact that Udall, a lifelong environmentalist, might not support a proposed pipeline that could threaten to pollute the Ogallala Aquifer, as well as endanger communities and farmland along its route, should not be a surprise.

In addition to the inherent danger of spills from moving this highly corrosive oil sands sludge across the landscape, water and air pollution inevitably will follow the pipeline. Communities will suffer the consequences of leaks or, worse yet, ruptures.

Inevitably, air and water pollution will increase in areas near the pipeline.

As the facts are separated from energy industry hype, the more appropriate question becomes, “Why has Udall not been more forthcoming on his position on the controversial XL pipeline?”

Until last year, the energy industry was making outrageous claims that the pipeline would create 20,000 permanent, well-paying jobs. A full-page New York Times ad by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned President Obama not to say “no” to 20,000 jobs.

Once the pipeline was built, the propaganda was suggesting, all those jobs still would be required to maintain it.

These pipe dreams were dashed when the U.S. State Department reported last January,  “Once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require an estimated 50 total employees: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.”

The temporary jobs created by construction of the pipeline were estimated by the government report as equivalent to 3,900 jobs to build the pipeline in one year, or 1,950 jobs each year if built over two years.

Far from the promise of thousands of jobs, these jobs are too few to make much dent in national unemployment figures, and they will do little to stimulate substantial local development after construction is completed, according to the State Department report.

Instead, the country will be traversed by 1,700 miles of dangerous pipeline bringing 830,000 gallons of highly corrosive heavy tar sands oil daily to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Once refined, most of the oil will be shipped abroad.

As actor/activist Robert Redford wrote, “The more people learn about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the less they like it. Tar sands crude means a dirtier, more dangerous future for our children all so that the oil industry can reach the higher prices of overseas markets. This dirty energy project is all risk and no reward for the American people.”

Republicans have made the pipeline a political issue, and they will not let Udall escape it. Since nothing the senator is likely to say on the subject will attract Republican voters, his best strategy with Democrats — who currently favor the XL — is to expose the Big Oil hypocrisy behind claims XL is safe,

As Redford suggests, the more people know about the potential impacts of the pipeline, the less they like it.

Udall’s challenge is to make sure his constituents understand that the potential for irreversible damage from the XL pipeline is too great to risk for such minimal benefit to the nation.

That will continue to be true, no matter what decision the president makes on XL.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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