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The Podium

Keep dirty oil out of New England

From north to south and east to west, people across the United States and Canada are increasingly coming together to fight against the expansion of the Alberta tar sands and efforts to move the highly toxic bitumen — tar sands “oil” — through pipelines to the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. From US ports the bitumen would be shipped primarily to China.

Why do I care? Even before I learned that ExxonMobile is gearing up to try to send tar sands oil east through Vermont — my home state — and New Hampshire to a shipping port in Portland, Maine through decades old pipelines, I was opposed to tar sands expansion and pipeline projects.

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Global warming and the obvious changes to our weather patterns cannot sustain more exploitation of fossil fuels. And tar sands expansion is among the worst threats. After the oil fields of Saudia Arabia, the full development of Alberta tar sands will create the world’s second largest potential source of global warming gases. I saw for myself the impact of the tar sands on the environment and people of Western Canada.

Last October I led a delegation of women from the United States and Canada to the tar sands of Alberta. We began in Ft McMurray, and then traveled along the proposed route of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that will carry tar sands oil from Prince George, in beautiful northern British Columbia, all the way to the sea at Kitimat on the Douglas Channel.

While in Canada, I met with and listened to the concerns of over 200 women in 13 communities — women nursing babies, women in wheelchairs, some women representing environmental and community organizations, many from First Nation groups. They spoke passionately about how the massive expansion of the oil sands and pipeline and tanker projects will impact on their communities, forests, rivers, oceans, and air. Some told us of powerful court challenges they are mounting against the tar sands, others described their very real fears about oil spills and what this will do to their livelihoods and way of life. The tar sands oil is the dirty, and they don’t want it their backyard.

And I don’t want it in mine.

Along with most Americans, I am deeply disturbed by the rapid pace of climate change and want our leaders to take meaningful action. Last year I wrote last year to President Obama, together with nine other Nobel Peace laureates, urging him to lead the transition away from our dependence on oil, coal and gas and instead increase investments in renewable energies and energy efficiency. I also joined tens of thousands in demonstrating at the White House to urge him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry tar sands oil from Canada through six states to reach the Gulf of Mexico. But that is still not enough.

What I heard in Western Canada echoes what I am hearing across the continent. Many people are moved to action by changing weather patterns, and their fears for the future of their families. Warmer temperatures are hitting Northern British Columbia’s forestry industry hard. Closer to home, last year was the hottest on record in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, by more than one degree — as it was for the entire continental United States. A record 11 wildfires, droughts and storms in 2012 exceeded $1 billion in damages, and of course Superstorm Sandy late last year devastated the lives of many communities in New Jersey and New York.

Yet, through it all, our leaders in the US and Canada continue to collude with the oil industry for a rapid expansion of the tar sands. This kind of leadership is taking us in the opposite direction of where we need to go. Production of tar sands oil needs to be capped, and we need to start investing in other energy sources.

Like thousands resisting the pipelines in Canada and the Keystone XL, we here in New England will say no to tar sands.

We will be united in telling leaders of both nations to stop the madness. Listen up Prime Minister Harper: Canada’s National Energy Board must hear the will of the people and deny approval of this pipeline plan. And our message to President Obama, as he starts his second term, is clear: Become a climate leader. Keep tar sands out of New England by refusing to issue this pipeline a new presidential permit.

As a Vermonter, an American, a global citizen, I am proud to join this call.

Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, is the chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organization created by women Nobel peace laureates.
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