Feb 28, 2015 - Despite Presidential Veto of the KXL Pipeline Bill, Tar Sands Crude Crosses the Border; Battle for Mother Earth Goes West by Matt Remle

On February 24th, President Obama followed through with his promise to veto a congressional bill, the Hoeven-Manchin bill S-1, that would have approved the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Hoeven-Manchin bill, which passed both houses of congress, would have approved the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline under Congress’s authority enumerated in the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, bypassing the State Departments review of TransCanada’s permit.

It should be noted that the veto only stopped the passage of the Hoeven-Manchin bill and did not formally reject the permit application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, which is currently under review by the State Department. The State Department is expected to finalize its National Interest Determination memo, and make its final recommendation to President Obama in the coming weeks, paving the way for him to make a final decision.

Despite the veto, congressional Republicans have vowed to continue their efforts to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by attaching it to a future so called piece of must-pass legislation. Sen. Thune (R-SD) is already looking towards attaching a KXL approval bill to a future appropriations bill.

Tar Sands crude goes West

While international attention, and activism, focused on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, Tar Sands crude traders quietly turned their eyes to the West for alternative routes to ship Canadian oil from U.S. ports.

In November 2014, unbeknownst to both Washington and Oregon state environmental regulators, tar sands crude began arriving at state refineries via rail. According to Union Pacific, seven to ten mile-long trains carrying tar sands crude move through the northwest states every month bound to refineries in Western Washington, Oregon and California.

It is reported that at least five rail-to-marine projects have been proposed for Washington State, which would allow for the export or domestic shipment of more than 500,000 barrels a day of oil. A terminal is also proposed for Oregon which would accommodate 300,000 barrels of crude daily.

Congress is also currently debating ending its 40-year ban on exporting domestic crude. According to Eric de Place, policy director at Sightline Institute, “If the U.S. export ban gets lifted, then you could see the Northwest become a major throughput route for oil exports to South Korea, Japan and northeast China.”

Cascade XL Pipeline

Washington State Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) recently introduced legislation that would devote $250,000 towards a study to construct a pipeline from the mid-west to Washington State. The proposed “Cascade XL pipeline”, if built, would run across the state of Washington transporting crude oil from the Midwest drilling sites to refineries in Puget Sound or potential export facilities in Southwest Washington.

Coal terminals & oil trains

The proposals to build rail-to-marine oil export terminals comes with other recent export proposals. Coal companies, eager to tap Asian markets, have proposed building the country’s largest coal export terminals in Washington State.

Currently, coal mined from the Powder River region of Montana and Wyoming is crossing through the Northwest region via rail on its way to export terminals in Canada.

Opposition to the coal trains, coal export terminals and the oil trains carrying both tar sands and Bakken crude has run strong in the Northwest region. Concerns over public safety, environmental quality, fisheries, treaty rights and climate change has led to a strong coalition between tribal and non-tribal communities.

Healing pole carved by Jewell James (Lummi) traveled from South Dakota to Alberta Tar Sands to bring communities together in the fight against coal and oil exports.

Protect Salish Sea advocates occupy rail lines in Seattle (summer 2014).

Last Real Indians