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Congress and Keystone XL: A national disgrace

Photo credit: tarsandaction

The Congress is ending the year much as it began — playing politics with our nation’s future and putting American families at risk to score partisan points.

In the closing act to a shameful year of paralysis and indecision on the issues that matter most, House Republicans held common-sense tax relief for American families hostage to a holiday gift to Big Oil.

After the GOP-led House welded the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline rider onto the tax-relief bill, the Democratic-led Senate went along for the ride, passing a bad piece of legislation rather than being accused of blocking a needed tax cut.

When the United State Congress intentionally ties these two things together, though, it’s not a joke: it’s a national disgrace.

Let’s be clear about the purpose of this move. It’s a naked political stunt designed to hurt the president in an election year. Excuse the sarcasm, but you can see the connection here: tax relief worth about $1,000 a year for the typical working family, and a misguided plan to goose the fortunes of an industry that has already hauled in profits topping $100 billion this year.

With needed tax relief for working families set to expire at year’s end, Congress should be sending President Obama a clean bill that asks a simple question: should we extend middle class tax relief and unemployment benefits at a time when our workers are struggling with hard times? For anyone who cares about fairness and families, that’s an easy one.

Instead, House Republicans tacked onto that bill a contentious and unrelated question: should we allow Big Oil to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to take the dirtiest oil on the planet from the tar sands of Canada, through the heartland of America, to refineries and ports on the Gulf of Mexico?

Tar sands crude is not only the dirtiest oil on the planet, but it is produced through some of the most destructive industrial processes ever devised.

In requiring the administration to make up its mind within 60 days, this bill ensures that the State Department will not have been able to establish that the pipeline is in the national interest. It would require a decision that pre-approves the safety of an unknown, mystery route, through Nebraska meant to avoid the precious Ogallala Acquifer. There will be no choice but to deny the pipeline permit.

Further, Keystone XL would cross more than 1,500 waterways, threatening them with the kind of accident that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River last summer and put 20 times that much tar sands in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, in a spill that hasn’t been cleaned up yet.

For Congressional Republicans, though, that doesn’t really matter.

What they care about is trying to somehow embarrass the president, to force his hand with an arbitrary deadline and cause a rush to judgment on a matter of serious national concern.

The misinformation spouting from GOP Congressional leadership on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is stunning. Just this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press, Speaker Boehner lied repeatedly about every aspect of this project. And it sat there, as truth.

Never mind that the majority of the contracts for the processed oil are already cut and most of it will likely be exported to foreign countries. Speaker Boehner sat there and said it’s a matter of national security. It’s not. It’s a matter of a big payday for his friends in the oil and gas industry.

Never mind that every independent study on how many American jobs will actually be created says, at most, 6,500 temporary construction jobs, very few of which would be local hires, according to the State Department. And never mind that Cornell University concludes it would kill more than it would create, by reducing investment in the clean energy economy. Speaker Boehner can pop off with more misinformation saying hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created. And it sits there, as truth.

Here’s the simple truth, they’re all willing to put our people and resources at growing risk to help boost oil company profits.

For the millions of Americans who care about clean air and water for their families, national security and a re-energized economy, all GOP Congressional leadership can come back with is a personal slap down. That somehow Americans who feel public health and safety are priority concerns, are crazy and irrational.

Newt Gingrich, the Republican’s leading candidate for President of the United States portrayed these American citizens, living in a democracy as “… left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called for the president to not “… let a few radical environmentalists stand in the way… ” All of this feels more like middle school than political leadership.

The American people are a lot smarter than these so-called leaders give them credit for. They can tell when they’re being played. They know that this is a Congress that’s more concerned with scoring political points than it is with doing the country’s business.