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February 4, 2014

Keystone XL pipeline is still a terrible idea

By Cary Brunswick
The Daily Star

---- — It is hard to believe, in fact unbelievable, that a government report could claim that the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would have no major impact on the environment and not contribute to more airborne carbon pollution.

The five-year-old pipeline proposal, which would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands 1,180 miles to existing pipelines in Nebraska, has been mired in the government’s regulatory process because President Barack Obama said he would not approve it unless it was clear the pipeline would not contribute to emissions associated with climate change.

The State Department’s report released Friday that raised no serious environmental concerns would seem to leave the president with justification to OK the pipeline. But that would be a terrible mistake.

Not only would the pipeline contribute to further destruction of the tar sands region of Alberta, it also would help send 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas. The refining and eventual use of that oil certainly would add to the fossil-fuel pollution from which we should be downsizing.

Proponents of the pipeline may argue that the project would create jobs and boost our energy security. However, the best way to strengthen energy security is to invest more resources into alternative, renewable energy sources.

Environmentalists are on the mark by saying that pipeline approval would contradict Obama’s vow to fight climate change. They even insist the report can be interpreted as an argument against the pipeline.

The project now heads to a 30-day comment period and review by Secretary of State John Kerry and other agencies. The president has 90 days to make the decision on the pipeline.

If approved, the battle over the pipeline project will move out of the halls of government and into the field, as national opponents have declared they have recruited tens of thousands of volunteers to take part in civil disobedience.

•••

After folk singer Pete Seeger died last week at age 94, Associated Press writer Ted Anthony, who had interviewed Seeger extensively for a book, wrote that he ``was a prominent voice on race, on poverty, on war and peace. He weighed in on the environment on behalf of his beloved Hudson River. In the 1950s, he stood firm against the anti-communist witch hunts that scuttled the career of many a performer, and suffered for it.’’

Yes, when Seeger was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, he testified that he was ``not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.’’

In a way, Seeger was fortunate because he was able to cite the First Amendment and simply refuse to answer the questions, though he was charged with contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison.

In the months before his death, he was probably shocked to learn that today the government did not have to ask questions personally, it just spied on people by listening to their phone calls and reading their e-mails.

•••

Despite tougher laws and penalties for texting while driving, it appears more and more drivers are doing it — and law enforcement agencies are catching more of them in the act.

According to state Department of Motor Vehicle records, the number of driving-while-texting tickets jumped 82 percent statewide from 2012 to 2013. And in Otsego County the increase is even greater, with 216 tickets issued last year compared to 65 in 2012 — a 98 percent increase. In Delaware County, that figure is 89 percent.

Gov. Cuomo wants to make the penalties for violations even tougher. Last month, he proposed suspending licenses for one year rather than six months for people under 21 nabbed texting while driving.

That would make sense. Texting while driving is dangerous. From 2005 to 2011, texting-while-driving accidents statewide increased 143 percent. In 2011, DMV records show there were 25,165 fatal and personal injury accidents caused by texting and distracted drivers.

Now, I have never been fond of the seat-belt law or even the cell-phone driving prohibition, but texting while driving requires people to take their eyes off the road. It can be harmful to the drivers who do it and the vehicle they distractedly collide with.

Stop texting while you are driving.

(An editing change was made from the original story to reflect the number of tickets issued in 2012.)

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.