Photo credit: Supreme Court Pediment by user Kevin Harber

Executive Orders for 2014: Christopher Johnson

Back in November of 2013, President Obama issued an executive order on climate preparedness. Because executive orders circumvent Congress within certain limits, they allow the president to implement action to address climate change and other issues. A few weeks ago I asked some of our authors to create their own executive orders to improve our handling of the environment.  

Executive Order Banning the Keystone XL Pipeline

by Christopher Johnson, co-author of Forests for the People Mr. President, I strongly urge you to issue an Executive Order preventing the TransCanada Corporation from constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Albert, Canada, through six U.S. states to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. This pipeline would be an environmental disaster for three reasons: the impact on climate change, the effects on people’s health, and the pollution caused by refining tar sands oil. First, this pipeline will contribute significantly to climate change. As you stated in your Second Inaugural Address in 2013, we must address climate change, “knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Each and every day, this pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of dirty oil, resulting in the emission of greenhouse gases equal to putting 5.6 million additional vehicles on the road in the United States. In addition, extracting the bitumen, or tarry substance, from silt, sand, and clay requires enormous amounts of energy. Converting tar sands into oil yields four or five joules, or units of energy, for each joule invested. In contrast, conventional oil yields fifteen joules for each joule invested. Consequently, the very process by which tar sands are turned into usable energy emits huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Second, the Keystone Pipeline XL will wreak havoc on people’s health. Without question, there will be oil spills from this pipeline. By comparison, TransCanada’s first pipeline experienced 12 spills in its first year of operation. When—not if—these spills occur, the tar sands oil will penetrate the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 2 million people in the Great Plains and irrigation water for approximately 25 percent of the irrigated farmland in the United States. This spilled oil would undoubtedly lead to increased rates of cancer, thyroid disease, and other diseases in the heartland of the United States. Third, the pipeline will lead to vastly greater refinement of tar sands oil, and refining this oil is an extremely dirty process because of the difficulty of extracting oil products from the heavy bitumen. The refining process causes high emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, causing acid rain and smog and leading to increased asthma and other diseases. In addition, the refining process leaves a nasty byproduct—petroleum coke, or petcoke. Petcoke can run power plants, but burning it causes more carbon pollution than even coal does. U.S. power plants are not permitted to burn petcoke because of the pollution caused, but power plants in China, India, and Latin America do burn it. We should not enable other countries to burn petcoke and contribute even more to climate change. Instead, we should be doing all we can to incentivize these countries to turn to renewable energy sources—as the United States should be doing as well. For these reasons, TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline would be an environmental disaster, and I strongly urge you to issue an Executive Order to prevent its construction.