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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

More Than Cranes Are Whooping Over the Keystone Pipeline XL Decision


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18 January 2012, 1:59 PM
Time to examine harmful effects of tar sands mining
The entire global population of wild, migratory whooping cranes migrates through the tar sands region twice annually. (U.S. FWS)

The President made the right decision on the Keystone pipeline XL today. House Republicans forced the arbitrary deadline of February 21 and there was really only one legal way to answer. Since the State Department hasn’t finished its environmental review of the pipeline and requests for alternative routes that bypass sensitive lands and habitats are not on the table yet—that would be a NO.

Many organizations have done great work in educating the public about the dangers of the proposed 1700-mile pipeline and it has paid off. Earthjustice has been working to protect the vulnerable habitats and endangered creatures that are being harmed right now at the open pit mines of the tar sands in Alberta, the source of the fossil fuel that currently courses through two existing pipelines that crisscross our country.

Earthjustice filed a Pelly petition in September of 2011 with the U.S. Department of the Interior, asking Secretary Ken Salazar to investigate Canada’s destructive tar sands mining and examine how the mining is hampering international efforts to protect endangered and threatened species. The petition documents how tar sands mining and drilling in Alberta are harming threatened woodland caribou and at least 130 migratory bird species, including endangered whooping cranes.

The Pelly petition called for the Interior Department to promptly investigate and determine whether tar sands activities are violating treaties that protect endangered and threatened species. The response so far has been silence.

Earthjustice is concerned because tar sands activities are destroying critical wildlife habitat in Alberta, and killing birds that land in toxic wastewater pits, mistaking them for freshwater ponds. Endangered whooping cranes are particularly vulnerable to the risk of landing in a tailings pond, as the entire global population of wild, migratory whooping cranes migrates through the tar sands region twice annually.

The herds of the tar sands region have already declined more than 50 percent over their last three generations. Habitat disruption and fragmentation—due in large part to tar sands activities—are the driving forces of the population’s decline.

But let’s get back to today’s good news. “Another pipeline will only accelerate destruction of this habitat by increasing pressure to suck more tar sands out of the ground,” according to Martin Wagner, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s international program. “This delay is an opportunity for the Obama administration to take up the issues raised in the Pelly petition and to work with Canada to avoid these irreversible harms. The administration should not approve ANY new tar sands pipeline until the two countries can find a way to address these and other threats posed by the tar sands."

Alberta tar sands. (Dru Oja Jay / Dominion)

Alberta tar sands. Tar sands mining operations permanently damages the environment, destroying forests and wetlands, with vast drilling infrastructure, open pit mines, and toxic wastewater ponds up to three miles wide.
(Dru Oja Jay / Dominion)

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