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Texas landowner calls out Obama on Keystone XL fast-tracking

The author and his family on their property. (Photo by Char Doonan.)

President Obama is in Cushing, Okla., where he issued a specific memorandum to federal agencies, not just to build, but to expedite the approval of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline.

Many concerned citizens are also in Cushing today. Indigenous communities, landowners, environmentalists, and Occupy activists showed up strong in spirit in opposition to the pipeline.

But they weren't at the pipe yard from which President Obama trumpeted his plan to expedite the southern segment -- a pipe yard owned by TransCanada, the Canadian oil company backing Keystone XL. These concerned citizens were fenced into a "free speech zone" six miles away from where President Obama stood, threatened with arrest if they attempted to leave the designated area.

Why does this concern me? I am David Daniel, a carpenter and landowner living in Winnsboro, a small community of 3,000 in East Texas. The southern leg of the pipeline, if approved, would cut straight through my property and the heart of my community. This pipeline would carry tar-sands oil -- the world’s dirtiest oil -- from Cushing, Okla., past my home to refineries in Texas.

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Obama likes Keystone XL now

Well, that was nice while it lasted. But despite the fact that domestic oil production doesn't do a dicky bird to bring down gas prices, President Obama is now paying election-year lip service to the idea of, and I quote, "drilling all over the place." And even more depressingly, he's now saying that the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which he'd previously opposed, should be "a priority."

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Media produces, laments public ignorance on gas prices

[See update at bottom.]

Painful source: Why can't the media get gas prices right?

Media coverage of gas prices has made me want to smash my head on my desk. So it was with some amusement that I read the first paragraph of Politico's piece on how dumb voters are:

Voters are appalled at President Barack Obama's handling of gas prices, even though virtually every policy expert in both parties says there’s little a president can do to affect the day-to-day price of fuel in a global market.

Ha ha stupid voters! Where do they get such bad information?

As Politico says, the U.S. president has virtually no control over gas prices. Time's Bryan Walsh lays it out clearly here (in an entirely factual piece that is nonetheless labeled "viewpoint"). Gas prices are tightly linked to oil prices, which are set by forces over which the U.S. has little control.

This is something that energy experts and analysts are more or less unanimous on. The Initiative on Global Markets gathered a panel of economic experts, from across the professional and ideological spectrum, and asked them to react to this thesis: "Changes in U.S. gasoline prices over the past 10 years have predominantly been due to market factors rather than U.S. federal economic or energy policies." Some 92 percent agreed. Eight percent were "uncertain." Not a single one disagreed.

So, just to be clear: Anyone who says the president is responsible for gas prices is either lying or woefully ignorant. This category includes all of the Republican candidates for president, virtually every GOP elected official, many conservative Democrats, legions of conservative and centrist pundits, and occasionally Obama himself.

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Obama debuts new energy theme: Past vs. future

Photo by Nick Knupffer.

The Obama administration has learned from history, it seems. They're not going to sit passively by as their opponents demagogue gas prices. This week they've gone on the offensive, with the president giving a series of interviews and speeches, including a major address today at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.

Most of the details from today's speech were familiar from previous speeches. Obama argued that his administration has substantially increased oil and gas drilling, but that drilling will never be enough to reduce gas prices or make America independent of imported energy. Thus, America needs to invent and build new technologies to produce clean energy and use less energy.

That's all been said before (though obviously nothing's wrong with repeating it). There was, however, a new theme in the speech, tying all these points together. I don't know if it's entirely new, but I've never heard it emphasized as much. And since it's a theme I've been pushing for years (clearly Obama is reading my blog), I was quite gratified to see it.

It's simply this: the past vs. the future. In his prepared remarks, he said a state of constant vulnerability to events overseas is ...

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Your best new argument against tar-sands mining: George W. Bush supports it

There are a lot of good arguments for opposing oil-sands development and the Keystone XL pipeline. But just today two more very excellent ones emerged. One involves science. The other involves George W. Bush.

If you want to get smart about this stuff, you can cite these facts, as reported by ClimateWire:

Scientists from the University of Alberta found that 10 operational oil sands mining projects would destroy enough peatlands to release 11.4 million to 47.3 million metric tons of stored carbon into the atmosphere. That release is the equivalent of seven years' worth of emissions from the oil sands mining region.

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How high do gas prices have to get to trigger behavior change?

Gas sign, $5.27 regular.Is this high enough?

This week, an average gallon of self-serve regular is going for $3.81. Is that enough to get Americans junking their minivans in favor of cargo bikes, or ditching their exurban McManses for walkable city living? In short: no. Still, two new polls offer a little insight on gas prices and lifestyle changes.

A AAA survey conducted at the beginning of the month found 84 percent of respondents saying they have changed their driving habits or lifestyle in some way in response to recent gas-price increases, and 87 percent would change driving habits further if prices remain this high for long. The most common change adopted so far is combining trips and errands, which 60 percent of respondents say they've done. And 16 percent say they've purchased or leased a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

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The only solution to high gas prices — with charts!

About a year ago, when the last episode of Gas Price Mania was gearing up, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) gave an extraordinary speech on the floor of the Senate. He explained that the price of gasoline is tied to the price of oil, the price of oil is tied to events outside America's control, and the only way to reduce vulnerability to gasoline and oil prices is to use less gasoline and oil. It's a simple truth, rarely spoken among national politicians.

Last week, Bingaman did it again, using handy charts blown up on poster board. First, he explained that the U.S. has very little control over oil and gasoline prices:

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Bitter spill: Leaky Keystone’s economic risks would dwarf benefits

Cornell's Global Labor Institute issued a big new report [PDF] this morning examining the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the most comprehensive look yet at its economic impact. And it makes clear just how right President Obama was to block this boondoggle: It would make money for a few politically connected oil companies, but at a potentially staggering cost to the American economy.

For once economists looked at the whole effect of the project. Unlike studies paid for by the TransCanada pipeline company that purported to show thousands of jobs created (a number since walked back to "hundreds" of permanent positions even by company spokespeople), this study asks: What happens when there’s a spill?

Not if there’s a spill. There's going to be a spill -- the smaller precursor pipeline recently built by TransCanada spilled at least 14 times in its first year of operation, once spewing a geyser of tar-sands oil 60 feet into the air. In fact, the new Cornell report estimates that we can expect 91 significant spills over the next half century from Keystone, in large part because the bitumen it would carry south from Alberta is like liquid sandpaper, scouring the steel of the pipe.

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Shell hires dogs to detect oil spills in Arctic

Photo by Arnout Grootveld.

Some of Shell’s newest employees are decidedly cuddlier than the middle-aged white dudes we typically associate with the oil behemoth. That’s because they’re a dachshund and two border collies.

New information reveals that the company has experimented with using three dogs -- Jippi, Blues, and Tara -- as a cheap and effective way to detect oil spills in the Arctic.

The dogs' ability to sniff out oil spills beneath snow and ice has been tested and paid for by Shell -- and other oil companies and government research organizations -- in preparation for the industry's entry into the forbidding Arctic terrain. The company hopes to begin drilling for oil off the northwest coast of Alaska in June.

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Meet the worst Senate amendment that ever lived

It’s ba-aack -- the Keystone XL pipeline, that is. The Senate is set to vote tomorrow on an amendment created by Big Oil wearing a Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) mask. The amendment would revive everyone’s favorite pipeline -- and, while it was at it, greenlight all the other oil-hungry environmental ruination that Republicans go in for.

The Senate defeated Keystone yet again last week, but Sen. Roberts included the pipeline in amendment #1826 of the Senate transportation bill (S. 1813). And that’s not the only Big Oil party favor he stuck in this grab bag of evil:

It would mandate drilling off of every coast in our nation and in the Arctic Refuge, allow oil shale development on millions of acres in America’s west, and allow the already-rejected Keystone XL pipeline to go forward.