This is a guest post by Mordecai Specktor, Editor and Publisher of the American Jewish World newspaper. This article originally ran as “Who speaks for the Jews?” in the February 15, 2012 print version of the newspaper.
Environmental groups in the United States launched an urgent campaign early this week to stop the U.S. Senate from fast-tracking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, with an amendment to the transportation bill. TransCanada, a Canadian-based energy firm, needs State Department approval to construct the pipeline, which would carry crude oil (diluted bitumen) 1,700 miles, from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.
President Obama previously postponed a decision on the Keystone XL project until after the November elections. Then, in January, Obama denied a permit for the pipeline, after Republicans in Congress attached a provision to a payroll tax relief bill requiring a presidential decision on the pipeline by this month. Obama said that there was not adequate time to conduct an environmental review of the $7 billion project.
As the American Jewish World went to press this week, more than 770,000 signatures have been gathered for an online petition — supported by 350.org and other environmental groups — urging the Senate to block the Keystone XL pipeline. The effort this week to derail the pipeline was termed the “most concentrated blitz of environmental organizing since the start of the digital age,” by 350.org.
Aside from TransCanada, its subcontractors and trade unions, who wants the Keystone XL pipeline, with its attendant risks to the environment?
Well, there’s the American Jewish Committee, whose director, David Harris, last month called on President Obama to support the project. “Failure to move forward to approve and build the Keystone XL pipeline threatens our country’s energy security, and also slights Canada, our dependable, democratic ally and neighbor,” said Harris, according to a Jan. 19 AJC press release. Further, Harris argued that the Keystone XL pipeline has become more important since Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, and cut off oil exports from the Persian Gulf.
Apparently, Harris (who received total compensation of around $740,000 in 2010) purports to speak for American Jews on the Keystone XL issue. I don’t recall voting for him, but perhaps I missed the last AJC general election.
Regarding his claim that the Keystone XL pipeline enhances U.S. energy security, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has pointed out that the “national debate surrounding the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has obscured the fact that a key purpose of the pipeline is to export Canadian oil to the world market via the U.S. Gulf Coast — a plan that would threaten the farmlands and water of America’s heartland.”
The NRDC added that by “skipping over refineries and U.S. consumers in the Midwest, tar sands producers will be able to send Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast refineries in tax-free Foreign Trade Zones, where it can be refined and then sold to international buyers — at a higher profit to Big Oil.”
I wrote about the deleterious environmental potential of the Keystone XL pipeline in the Nov. 11, 2011, AJW editorial, which was titled “Pipeline to the carbon bomb.” I noted then that “Jewish groups — including Hazon, the umbrella Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs — have stressed the need to protect the environment, take steps to mitigate global warming and reduce our dependence on oil. I don’t know that there have been specific actions taken by any of these groups in opposition to the Keystone XL project; but this new pipeline out of the tar sands is certainly a bad development for the environment. And for those who drink water, eat food and breathe air, maintaining the health of our physical environment is an overarching issue.”
The Reform movement, unlike the AJC, has not taken a position on the Keystone XL pipeline, a spokesperson for the organization’s Religious Action Center (RAC) told me on Tuesday. However, the RAC has warned about the calamitous effects from global climate change; and scientists point out that dirty tar sands oil from Canada will only add to the greenhouse gas problem.
In a statement issued by the RAC last month, the group quoted from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes): “One generation goes and another generation comes, but the Earth remains forever” (1:4).
The RAC statement, “The State of the Union and the Environment,” said: “We are people of faith who believe that all of God’s creation deserves to be protected and treated with respect, and we also know our human survival depends on the stability and security of natural resources.
“Over the past year, we have witnessed a disturbing increase in the number of attacks on the environment coming out of the U.S. Congress. Many lawmakers has been fiercely bent on cutting out funding for environmental protections, blocking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and regulations, and dismissing calls to address climate change…”
Most Jews in Minnesota, and across the U.S., likely have little knowledge about the activities and positions of the American Jewish Committee. The group does have some political clout; and, in the case of its advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline, it is misusing its influence for unfathomable reasons.