Indigenous Environmental Network on pipeline decision:We won the battle, not the war

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The delay buys time to strengthen our organizing work to stop the pipeline entirely. We will work to ensure this moment is remembered as the beginning of the end for the tar sands.

Statement of the Indigenous Environmental Network
November 11, 2011

Mother Earth Achieves a Victory Today
with Obama Administration Decision
to Delay the Keystone XL Pipeline Decision

(Turtle Island) The United States Department of State and President Barack Obama announced they would seek a new environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline. This will delay and hopefully stop the Trans Canada Corporation from pursuing to build the 1,700 mile long Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline is part of the expansion of the flow of dirty oil from the tar sands of Canada. The Indigenous Environmental Network, through its Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign and its Keystone XL Pipeline organizing work has successfully put an indigenous and human rights face to this dangerous and environmental destructive tar sands pipeline.

The Obama Administration decision to delay the Keystone XL Presidential Permit decision until 2013 to evaluate other options, such as rerouting the pipeline around the Ogalalla Aquifer and the Sand Hills of Nebraska buys time to strengthen the organizing work to stop the pipeline entirely. However, it is hopeful this delay will give the government the ability to offer this project the scrutiny it deserves. One of the demands the Indigenous Environmental Network has requested of the U.S. government within its pipeline environmental assessment process is the need to strengthen and ensure pipeline safety overall, in the U.S.

Yesterday’s decision by the Obama Administration is a small step in the right direction – an ethical decision. We say ethical, as a challenge to the conservative pro-oil people that try to spin Canadian tar sands oil as “ethical oil”. We are cautious. The overall fight to shut down the tar sands and all its pipeline infrastructures still remains.

IEN has been part of a massive successful movement of Native Nations from Canada to the U.S. standing with environmental organizations, faith-based groups, youth and students, labor and rural citizens living along the proposed pipeline demonstrating opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of the tar sands.

The recent “Circle Around the White House” this past Sunday brought over 12,000 people forming a circle three time deep. Clayton Thomas-Muller, IEN Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands campaign helped coordinate Native Nation voices at the Circle with Vice President Tom Poorbear of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Debra White Plume, Oglala Lakota representing Owe Aku speaking loud and clear against the pipeline and the tar sands.

All the nation-wide and local actions against the Keystone XL pipeline and against the expansion of the tars sands helped elevate the level of awareness of what the pipeline is all about. Hundreds of thousands of people wrote letters, made calls, and used social networking tactics mobilizing for the protection of the environment, demanding climate justice and challenging corporate power structures of oil cronyism and the Koch brother oligarchs. A big thanks and hand shake to everyone!

There is growing opposition to the Canadian tar sands. It is the tar sands in northern Alberta, Canada, located with the traditional territories of Cree, Dene and Métis indigenous communities from where the dirty tar-like oil is taken out of the ground, devastating the ecosystem, polluting the water and causing human health illnesses and deaths. With the voices of the First Nation Chiefs such as Bill Erasmus of Northwest Territories, Canada and George Stanley, from Alberta, Canada and the voices of Native grassroots young people from the tar sands impact zone, Americans are better informed of the human rights issues connected to the pipeline.

The decision by President Obama is a clear message that the tar sands are a toxic energy source, a major emitter of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change, a polluter of precious water and an unsustainable type of development that violates the rights of Indigenous peoples.

For the past few months, people-centered actions have brought people from all walks of life, and on both sides of the U.S. – Canadian border, questioning the energy, economic and climate policies of both countries that only deepen the addiction to dirty oil and continue global warming. We saw people starting to see the need to support a movement away from a fossil economy to an economy that respects the rights of Mother Earth.

Water is Life. Water was a major issue from the downstream communities of the tar sands in Canada to the people living in rural America along the proposed pipeline. The decision by the Obama Administration could protect a water source, the Ogallala Aquifer that provides safe drinking water for 3 million people.

We are keeping all eyes open, and ears to the ground. There are other tar sands pipeline proposals such as the Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project that would stretch from Alberta’s tar sands to a new port to be built in Kitimat, on British Columbia’s west coast. From there, over 225 crude oil tankers would travel B.C.’s northern inside coastal waters for export to international markets. Opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline and related tanker traffic is strong and growing, in particular in light of Enbridge’s recent oil spills in Illinois and Michigan.

Just a week ago, Obama announced his administration’s lifting of a moratorium on offshore oil exploration and now pursuing so-called “moderate” expansion of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic oceans of Alaska. The five-year plan, released by the US Interior Department, proposes to prepare a five-year schedule of oil and gas lease sales in both the Beaufort and Chukchi to oil companies for oil drilling.

We are fully aware, despite the delay; it is still “business as usual”.

This has to become more than simply a delay. We will work to ensure this moment is remembered as the beginning of the end for the tar sands.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, Tar Sands Campaigner, Indigenous Environmental Networks’ Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign, says:

“Did we win the war against big oil, no. Did we win this battle against big oil, yes! To date there is a 1.9 billion cost overrun for Trans Canada as a result of our campaign. This 12 to 18 month delay means investor confidence loss for Trans Canada-pipeline. We must continue to be vigilant as we have another half dozen other infrastructure choke points we need to target in the strategy to stop the Tar Sands.”

Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network Tribal Campus Climate Challenge organizer, says:

“The decision to delay the pipeline is a victory and I will gladly celebrate that victory; even if only for a moment. I live in North Dakota where the Keystone I pipeline still runs through and still has the potential to continue to leak and perhaps even be expanded. So, I will not become complacent nor quit speaking out against the Canadian tar sands until they are shut down permanently. When I begin to hear the U.S. Administration talking about alternatives to the fossil fuel industry, and the creation of green jobs, instead of alternatives to pipeline routes it will truly be music to my ears; then and only then will I know we have succeeded in protections for our Mother Earth and for the future generations.”

Tom B.K. Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network, says:

“The position taken by the Obama administration today to delay the permit for the Trans Canada Keystone XL pipeline in order to do a new environmental review is the right decision – an ethical decision. We applaud President Obama and the State Department for listening to the voices of youth, elders, faith-based groups, labor, students, environmental organizations, Native Nations, and those living along the proposed pipeline, who are standing united against dirty oil from the tar sands. This is the beginning of a new era in which people are demanding that their rights be recognized. The need to protect our sources of clean water, to fight for stabilizing climate change, and to say “No” to corporate polluters setting the agenda in Washington is now. We must not let up. The struggle for environmental and economic justice – for energy and climate justice – and the fight for Native Treaty Rights must continue. Mother Earth has achieved victory today.”

Marty Cobenais, Indigenous Environmental Network, Keystone XL Pipeline organizer, says:

“I applaud President Obama for standing up for Mother Earth, and making this decision. This is an important first step to stop the expansion of the tar sands.”

Debra White Plum, Oglala Lakota, says:

“President Obama, in my opinion, has released a statement that is very disappointing. I believe he is playing politics now. A statement to DENY the TransCanada dirty oil pipeline would have demonstrated that he is walking his talk. However, to postpone a decision until after the election next year does put a huge economic price tag on the project that TransCanada may not be willing to pay, thus scuttling their plan, causing them reroute directly out of Canada and staying out of North America. That action by the corporation will just put their weapon of mass destruction into the First Nations communities it must run thru to get to the west coast of Canada. Wherever they plan to run this pipeline, there will be a fight, either here or in Canada. We need to shut down the tarsands oil mine. Then there will no need for a pipeline anywhere.”