Student Voice


January 28, 2023


Letter to the editor

We need a climate change president

February 12, 2016

As President Obama addressed the nation in his final State of the Union last month, I recalled fondly all the achievements this seemingly progressive President has made. From expanding opportunities for immigrants, or repealing homophobic military standards, to fostering diplomacy between previously hostile nations such as Cuba, I’ve been proud to say that President Obama is the first I voted into office in 2012. For myself, and thousands of other young activists, his actions towards stopping environmental degradations is what I have found most meaningful. His work establishing emission caps with China, working towards climate agreements at COP 21, banning new offshore oil drillings in the Arctic, and the finally denying the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) has some news outlets dubbing him the “climate change President.”

While these accomplishments are drastic, important and necessary, this title is far from accurate. While we rejoiced at the denial of Transcanada’s KXL, Enbridge Energy was approved to follow through on an illegal scheme to transport twice the legal amount of the dirtiest fuels on Earth (tar sands crude) into the United States, in the Alberta Clipper pipeline that runs across the heart of Minnesota’s pristine water systems and branches off across Wisconsin, and some to the Great Lakes for transport.

Any company that wishes to build a pipeline crossing our international border must obtain a Presidential permit, which Enbridge did do initially. But, though the Alberta Clipper was strictly limited to move 450,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil per day BPD) by the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), it was built to move almost twice that capacity. Two years after operations started in 2012, Enbridge came to the State Department asking for a permit to start using Line 67 at its full capacity, 800,000 BPD. The state department at first said they would need to wait for the full study, including public input, but Enbridge couldn’t wait. They instead planned to divert half of the 800,000 barrels of tar sands into Line 3, a 50-year-old deteriorating pipeline that runs parallel to the Clipper, before the border, so that they technically would not be operating at a higher capacity coming into the country. Line 3 would be moved back to Line 67 further into the country. This illegal “switcheroo,” a term coined by opponents of Enbridge, is a dangerous and blatant breach of contract, and a reckless move that jeopardizes the heart of Minnesota’s waterways, farm, and forest ecosystems.

Little action was taken by the state department, and it was eventually approved entirely, making a mockery of the entire permitting process. From a public perspective it seems a deal was made between Enbridge and the government. If this is not challenged, it will become the status quo, a danger to our environments and health.

Outraged and saddened, a suit was filed against the State Department by groups such as MN350, The Sierra Club and Honor the Earth calling for an injunction against the plan until the permitting process did take place. On Dec. 9, a federal judge ruled in favor of Enbridge.

While crude oil that would have been moved by sections of KXL is bad, tar sands are far worse. Production of this dirty fuel emits three times as many CO2 emissions, a huge impact on the quickly changing climate. The heavy sediments that they’re found in sinks to the bottom of waterways when spilled, making them almost impossible to clean up. We saw this tragically in the Kalamazoo River of Michigan in 2010, where Enbridge spilled almost one million barrels of this toxic substance. It was the largest inland oil spill in history -- but only one of more than 800 spills committed by Enbridge pipelines in the last 12 years.

President Obama is not the climate change president, but we need the next one to be. Since all the Democratic Presidential candidates took a stance against Keystone XL, it seems natural for them to take a stance on the Enbridge pipeline invasion currently taking place in the heart of the country: the Midwest. Young voters in particular care about this issue deeply, as we’re the generation that will be affected by whatever action (or inaction) is taken by the powers-that-be to stop climate change, and the nominee will have to address this issue truthfully to secure this block of votes. For this reason, we urge moderators at the Democratic Debate on Feb. 11 to ask the candidates about their stance on the Alberta Clipper and what they will realistically do to address climate change aggressively. There won’t be a more perfect opportunity to do this than while they stand in Wisconsin, a state that will inevitably be drastically impacted if oil companies continue to take precedence over the best interest of this country’s citizenry.

Molly Kinney
Student, UW-River Falls