Home Energy and Environment Activists Confront Sen. Mark Warner Over Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline

Activists Confront Sen. Mark Warner Over Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline

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(Great job by April Moore, I just wish we had a few hundred (thousand? million?) more like her. Bottom line: we need to get in politicians’ faces on climate change, and we need to do it NOW.   – promoted by lowkell)

by April Moore

I was assigned the position at the back door of the restaurant. If Sen. Warner tried to avoid the large, determined crowd in front of the Harrisonburg eatery by sneaking in through the back, he would first have to deal with me.

And I knew just what I would tell him. I would first remind him that we had met last Labor Day when my husband Andy Schmookler, the 6th District Congressional candidate, gave what Lowell Feld called a ‘kick ass’ speech that brought 350 Democrats to their feet, including Sen. Warner. But this time I felt we would be meeting on less harmonious ground because of his vote last week in support of a non-binding resolution recommending that the Keystone XL Pipeline project go forward.

“Your legacy is going to depend on one thing above all,” I was going to tell him. “It won’t be long before everyone realizes that we are in great peril because of climate change. People will want to know,” I would continue, “what he did–or failed to do–to protect us from the ravages of a changing climate.”

But then, the folks in front of the restaurant sent me word that I should abandon my post; the Senator had already made his way through the crowd in front and was inside the restaurant. When I rejoined my companions in front, I gathered that they were less than satisfied with the interactions they’d been able to have with the Senator. Nonetheless, he’d had to push his way through about 70 of his unhappy constituents, whose deep concerns were reflected in numerous signs, sporting such slogans as “Sen. Warner:  What Have You Done for the Climate?” and “Don’t Commit to Dirty Oil.  Invest in Renewable Energy.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline, if built, would carry some of the world’s highest carbon tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through America’s heartland, to Texas for refining and shipment to world markets. Leading climate scientists tell us that the pipeline’s impact on the climate would be devastating.

Even though Warner had made it into Clementine’s, he hadn’t escaped me yet. I headed down into the restaurant basement where his session with businesspeople was to be held. I arrived in time to see him interviewed by local TV reporters. And I was disturbed by what I heard.  

It wasn’t his telling the TV reporters, “I’m very concerned about climate change” that disturbed me, but rather his citing the State Department’s recently issued Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as evidence that Keystone would have no major environmental impact. Didn’t he know it has been revealed that the EIS had been prepared by individuals with close ties to TransCanada, the company pushing to build the pipeline?  

As distressing as it was to think that a U.S. Senator might not know the truth about the EIS, it was less distressing than to think that maybe he did know. If he did know, how genuine was his expressed concern about climate change?  

At the end of the TV interview, I reached out to shake Mr. Warner’s hand. He was visibly eager to escape me and join the group he was there to meet with, and I barely had a chance to deliver a couple of choice sentences to underscore the importance of the climate issue.  Then he was gone. So I turned to the journalists and told them that the Senator’s remarks about the EIS had been misleading. How could we be reassured by a statement prepared by people with a huge financial interest in the project?  

But the reporters replied that they were running late. It was clear that the problems with this Environmental Impact Statement were not going to be part of the story.

Later, when I told Sen. Warner’s chief of staff Luke Albee about the problematic nature of the EIS his boss had cited, Mr. Albee said it was news to him.  

The organization that planned the Harrisonburg confrontation with Sen. Warner, 350.org, is planning similar encounters at Sen. Warner’s events around the state during the rest of the Senate’s spring recess. When the recess is over, maybe Warner and his people will have learned some things about the Keystone Pipeline and our climate, about the corrupting infiltration of special interests into the federal decision-making process, and about the passionate concerns of many of his constituents.

And I hope that from now on, Sen. Warner will join Virginia’s other Democratic Senator, Tim Kaine, in voting in ways that show appropriate concern for the challenge we face with climate change.

April Moore is an environmental writer and activist in the Shenandoah Valley