November 18, 2017 Yessenia Funes / Earther & Mayra Cuevas and Steve Almasy / CNN
A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota. This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date and comes just days before Nebraska officials will announce a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline can move forward. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the GOP has added a clause to its tax bill to allow oil and gas drilling in the 19-million acre Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
The Republican Tax Bill Is a Disaster That
Includes Arctic Drilling and Rolling Back Obamacare Yessenia Funes / Earther
(November 17, 2017) -- What's health care got to do with oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)? Well, quite a bit, actually -- but that's not why Republicans lumped the two together into their tax reform bill.
The GOP's been working up a devious scheme to restructure the tax code for weeks now. They finally released a $1.5 trillion plan earlier this month, on November 2, and now two bills have been making their way through the House and Senate. The House passed the bill Thursday in a 227-205 vote.
In the Senate, the bill's been packaged with another one, championed by Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, to allow oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain of the 19-million acre ANWR.
The Republican senator argues drilling would help raise the $1 billion in federal revenue the 2018 federal budget requires of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs. Her bill passed Wednesday with a 13-10 vote.
"Opening a small part of [the 2,000 federal acres in the non-wilderness portion of the ANWR] for responsible energy development will create thousands of good jobs, keep energy affordable for families and businesses, ensure a steady long-term supply of American energy, generate new wealth, reduce the federal deficit, and strengthen our national security," Murkowski said, in a press release.
Environmentalists, Alaska Natives like the Gwich'in, and even nuns disagree. They don't want to see any segment of the ANWR opened up to drilling. The refuge's been around since 1960, and exists to protect fauna and flora, and to ensure people like the Gwich'in can continue to live off the land and animals.
Animals like the Porcupine River caribou. The caribou call the refuge home and calve on the ANWR's coastal plain. Global warming is already threatening the animal's well-being; drilling would just increase the risks, environmentalists argue.
Many environmentalists criticized the Murkowski's effort to tie drilling in ANWR to a tax bill, calling it a "shameless hijacking of the federal budget process." But it's not the only contentious issue riding on GOP tax reform: Senators released the latest version of their bill Tuesday night, and it includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.
This is the requirement that charges a fee to individuals who can afford a health care plan but don't buy one. And as much as Murkowski is pro-drilling, she's also pro-health care and has been an adamant opponent to President Donald Trump's attempts to dismantle Obamacare.
With the mandate repeal included in the greater tax package, Murkowski is now forced to choose: fossil fuel cash or affordable health coverage?
Losing the individual mandate doesn't mean a definitive end to the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, but proponents say the mandate is "essential" to making Obamacare work, per Reuters. It would definitely cause people to pay higher premiums, as the Congressional Budget Office found. According to the CBO, four million fewer Americans would have health insurance in 2019, and many would wait to buy health care until they're sick.
In Alaska, health care is already a struggle. More than 15 percent of Alaskans were without insurance between 2011 and 2015, according to Census numbers. That's more than 111,00 people. Alaskans are more likely to be uninsured than most other people in the US, too: The state ranked No. 2 in the country for its uninsured rate in 2016.
It's no wonder Murkowski has been fighting Trumpcare in the Senate. With this bill, she'll have to choose between that fight and drilling. She can't win both. When Earther reached out to her office for comment, Communications Director Karina Peterson pointed us toward her prior statements on Obamacare that show Murkowski's "hopefulness in progress towards reforming the current flawed healthcare system." The senator wants to see healthcare that reduces costs and increases access.
"I know that access to affordable care is a challenge for so many," Murkowski said, in a July press release. "I hear from fishermen who can't afford the coverage that they have, small business owners who can't afford insurance at all, and those who have gained coverage for the first time in their life."
The Republican base must convince more than just Murkowski that repealing the individual mandate is a good idea. At least one other Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, ain't about that life, either.
(November 17, 2017) – A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota, the pipeline's operator, TransCanada, said.
Crews shut down the pipeline Thursday morning and officials are investigating the cause of the leak, which occurred about 3 miles southeast of the town of Amherst, said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota, Walsh said. The leak comes just days before Nebraska officials announce a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a sister project, can move forward.
In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release -- or 16,800 gallons -- with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday.
"It is a below-ground pipeline but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass," Walsh said. "It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination."
There were no initial reports of the oil spill affecting waterways, water systems or wildlife, he said.
TransCanada said it was working with state and federal agencies.
"The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available," the company said.
The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles from Hardisty east into Manitoba and then down to Texas, according to TransCanada. The pipeline transports crude oil from Canada.
The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from Hardisty down to Steele City, Nebraska, would complete the entire proposed system by cutting through Montana and South Dakota.
The sections of pipeline affected stretch from Hardisty, Alberta, to Cushing, Oklahoma, and to Wood River, Illinois, the company said.
The spill occurred in the same county as part of the Lake Traverse Reservation.
"We are concerned that the oil spill is close to our treaty land, but we are trying to stay positive that they are getting the spill contained and that they will share any environmental assessments with the tribal agency," said Dave Flute, tribal chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.
Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the spill shows the new pipeline in Nebraska should not be approved.
"The Nebraska Public Service Commission needs to take a close look at this spill," said Rachel Rye Butler of Greenpeace. "A permit approval allowing Canadian oil company TransCanada to build Keystone XL is a thumbs-up to likely spills in the future."
New Keystone XL
In March, President Donald Trump's administration officially issued a permit that approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid hefty opposition from environmental groups, who argued the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands, which pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. Environmentalists also opposed the pipeline because it would cut across the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's largest underground deposits of fresh water.
Tar sands oil is much thicker and stickier than traditional oil, significantly complicating cleanup efforts. The fact it's thicker also means it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials to allow it to be transported in pipelines.
Native American groups have argued the pipeline would cut across their sovereign lands.
Trump said the new pipeline will be a big win for American workers, but critics say it won't be, because most of the jobs would be temporary.
Dakota Access Pipeline
TransCanada said Thursday that the section of Keystone pipe that was leaking was isolated within 15 minutes after a drop in pressure was detected.
According to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources' website, this is the third pipeline spill in the state this year. Another came in April when about 84 gallons of crude oil leaked from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in Spink County.
That pipeline, which runs through both Dakotas and two other states, drew fierce resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, the tribe's allies and environmentalists.
Opposition to the pipeline sparked monthslong protests, with as many as 10,000 people participating during the peak of the demonstrations. Clashes with police at the protests turned violent at times, with one woman nearly losing her arm after an explosion last November.
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