How does a Catholic, climate-denying Republican congressman deal with the Pope’s coming to Capitol Hill to talk about climate change?

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If he’s Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, he writes a letter saying that he’s not going to attend. He also says that Pope Francis should instead talk about ISIS and persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Because if you claim to know more about science than scientists, why not just go all the way and say you know more about the papacy than the Pope?

There’s a word for that kind of thinking: heresy. It used to get people burned at the stake.

The news about pipelines, climate change, and energy policy has been surprisingly good lately. It’s got to make you wonder: are we winning? Have we turned the tide? We’re seeing a lot of minor victories that combine to make a powerful surge.

Just this week, a Minnesota appellate court ruled that the Sandpiper pipeline proposed by Enbridge (of $1.2 Billion Kalamazoo River spill fame) must comply with the environmental impact assessment rules, and that the state’s Public Utilities Commission erred when it gave the company a green light without considering its environmental risks. This is not what the PUC expected when they rubber-stamped Enbridge’s application on little more than assurances that there’s really nothing to worry about (cough*KalamazooRiver*cough).

Similarly, Alberta tar sands exploiter Nexen got quite a surprise when the provincial Energy Regulator issued a shutdown order in response to  “noncompliant activities at Long Lake oilsands [sic] operations.” The order came after a spill near the facility in June, which dumped 5 million liters [1.32 million gallons] of oil, bitumen, and sand into a nearby lands. The company said it could take two weeks to close off the 95 separate pipelines covered by the order. Would the shut-down order have come if the provincial government was still run by the oil-friendly folks of the Progressive Conservative Party, instead of the conscientious, environmentally concerned New Democratic Party? Maybe. But probably not.

Another Enbridge project, the Alberta Clipper, is under intense scrutiny, since it seems to be playing fast and loose with the rules on cross-border pipelines in an effort to escape the review process that has Keystone XL in limbo. The company is playing a shell game with existing pipes, trying to nearly double its capacity from the current 450,000 barrels per day to 880,000. And they’re doing it by simply switching pipes on either side of the border. You might admire it for the cleverness of the trick, until you remember that pipelines fail frequently and spectacularly– as the people of Kittson County, Minnesota, learned in very dramatic fashion when a gas pipeline ruptured and exploded early this month– and avoiding environmental assessments is immoral, if not criminal. And then there’s Enbridge’s track record for safety (cough*Kalamazoo*cough*$1.2 billion*cough cough).

People seem to have had enough of climate deniers in power. Australia just jettisoned their prime minister, Tony Abbott, whose policies helped put Australia among the worst per capita polluters in the world. Meanwhile Canada’s Stephen Harper, Big Oil’s man in Ottawa, stands a very good chance of being ousted like his Conservative Party brethren in Alberta, and trails candidates from both the NDP and the Liberal parties in the polls. And in the U.S., none of the GOP deniers vying for the White House is considered a serious threat to Democratic candidates who all acknowledge the threat of global warming. (Though Trump beats both Clinton and Sanders head-to-head in one recent poll, it’s hard to envision his xenophobic, misogynist, and racist rhetoric winning over enough women, Latino, and African-American voters to take the final prize.)

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), in fact, offered a science lesson to anti-science Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, in the mic-droppingest way possible.

 

Brown’s state, now mired in its fourth year of a devastating drought, is about to become a global leader in clean energy and carbon reduction. And as Tim McDonnell writes in Mother Jones, it hasn’t hurt the state’s economy, as climate deniers often warn about efforts to rein in fossil fuels. California’s GDP has actually increased nearly 25 percent since 2000, despite the post-9/11 recession and the Great Recession of 2008. And all of this occurred while the state dropped its per-capita greenhouse gas emission by nearly 15 percent.

Electric and hybrid cars, which not long ago were mocked and sneered at by the automotive world, are making up an increasing proportion of the cars on the road. While hybrid sales have leveled off, sales of plug-in electric cars have surged, now making up more than 740,000 vehicles globally. Even snooty car makers like Porsche, long favored by driving purists, are getting in on the action. Its Mission E electric car debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show, boasting a 0-62 MPH time of less than 3.5 seconds. Not bad for a technology that not long ago was mocked as apt only for golf carts.

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of energy and climate policy. Greenpeace’s Jill Pape counts at least eight. Of course the news is not all good– there are many, many signs that global warming is already taking a terrible toll, and will continue to do so, and still get worse.

But there is reason to hope. The deniers have pushed themselves closer to the margins, and everyone from Pope Francis to Green Day to the SXSW conference is telling the world that there is a better way, and we should embrace it sooner than later.

Not happy enough with polluting the Kalamazoo River, not satisfied using lackeys in the Wisconsin legislature to ram a tar sands pipeline down the people’s throats without guaranteed proper insurance

Now Enbridge wants to pick the pockets of Minnesota taxpayers. The Duluth News Tribune reports that the company is asking a tax court to relieve it of millions of dollars in past and future property taxes. The affected counties say an adverse ruling could put them in financial jeopardy.

Watch out, Comcast and Time-Warner Cable. There’s a new challenger for the title of America’s Most Hated Corporation.

The movement that spawned the Keystone XL opposition is not a one-trick pony. Often accused of hysterically claiming KXL will destroy the planet and stopping it is the only thing that will prevent global annihilation, (see, e.g., The Washington Post), they are a far more diverse and involved group than they’ve been given credit for.

And they are clearly not just focused on KXL. On Tuesday, they held a sit-in at Secretary of State John Kerry’s house, to bring attention to the fact that Enbridge, the company that gave use the Kalamazoo River spill, is trying to circumvent regulations that require presidential approval for a trans-border pipeline. Natasha Geiling at Think Progress does an excellent job of explaining the nefarious scheme to avoid environmental scrutinyand how the activists are working to stop it and other poorly thought out plans to move tar sands across the U.S.

Suffice to say, the movement is not about one pipeline, but it is about the future of the planet.

We’re still more than four months away from the first votes being cast in the 2016 presidential race, but the spectacle is drawing media attention like a porchlight draws moths. The incendiary bombast of Trump, the increasing shrillness of Republican also-rans trying to out-Trump Trump, the caginess of Hillary Clinton to sidestep manufactured scandals, Sanders’s roiling economic populist movement, the quiet tickle of a possible Biden run…. There’s so much going on, it’s like watching a plate spinner on a Vaudeville stage. How long can he keep it going?

But while the political circus draws spectators, some very real news is getting short shrift in the media.

Were you aware, for instance, that July 2015 was the hottest month ever recorded? Since 1880, when these things were first tracked, no month has had higher temperatures, globally. The record it broke? July of 2014.

Science Daily, citing materials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reports that the temperature on land was 0.96 degrees Celsius higher than the average for the 20th century, while ocean temperatures were 0.75 degrees Celsius over the 20th century average. Put that together, and you have the hottest month on record.

But you probably never heard about it. As Sam Stein reported on Huffington Post, cable news outlets mentioned the report just ten time, total. Five times on MSNBC (the so-called “liberal media”), and five times on CNN. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, there were exactly zero mentions of it on Fox.

The consequences of global warming are becoming clearer by the day. Earlier this month, three firefighters lost their lives battling a wildfire in Wenatchee, Wash., just the latest wildland fire to destroy property and lives. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), whose state is mired in a historic drought, says expanded wildfire season is “the new normal.” Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent fighting the flames that have devoured the hillsides choked with dry vegetation, leading Brown to challenge the GOP presidential field: What are you going to do about it?

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The Guardian reports that about 2 million Californians live in areas at risk from wildfires, so Brown’s question is not merely a political thumb in the Republican Party’s climate-denying eye. More than half of the US Forest Service budget now goes into fighting fires. That’s a powerful signal that change is upon us.

Global warming is not just threatening Americans in where they live, but in how they make their living. Al Jazeera reports that rising river temperatures are threatening sockeye salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest. Extraordinary efforts are underway to save what’s left of the endangered fish, which can be killed by water temperatures above 70 degrees fahrenheit; current temperatures hover around 68 degrees, leaving them disoriented and lethargic, unable to return to their homes to lay eggs.

Similar scenarios are playing out in fish habitats around the globe, leading the NOAA to develop plans with U.S. fisheries to adapt as rising ocean temperatures push fish species farther away from their normal habitat in search of cooler waters.

Fishermen are the eyes and ears on the ocean,” Roger Griffis, climate change coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, told Rhode Island Public Radio. “They are out there seeing these changes in real time. So the strategy puts a big emphasis on working more with fishermen, fishing communities, to better understand the changes and prepare for those changes.”

Many climate deniers, and even some who acknowledge the threats posed by global warming, assure us that even if the worst were to come to pass, we can find a technological solution.

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Wrong!

Research published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change says the damage done already to the ocean is beyond fixing, even if somehow we were able to rid ourselves of excess carbon dioxide, a leading contributor to the greenhouse effect. It also impacts ocean temperature, acidity, and oxygenation of the water. Think of it this way: a warm beer foams more than a cold one, because gases– like oxygen– dissolve poorly in warm liquids. Without enough oxygen in the water, fewer fish and shellfish can live in it.

“Interestingly, it turns out that after ‘business as usual’ until 2150, even taking such enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere wouldn’t help the deep ocean that much – after the acidified water has been transported by large-scale ocean circulation to great depths, it is out of reach for many centuries, no matter how much CO2 is removed from the atmosphere,” one of the study’s authors told The Guardian.

All of this news has come out in recent weeks, with little attention paid from the mainstream media. Granted, the GOP spectacle has been especially spectacular this election season. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore everything else.

In fact, the issues we discussed here have a connection to the Republican battle royale: The Guardian reports that the candidates have received $62 million in campaign contributions from fossil fuel sources.

Though the circus is in town, there’s still real work to do.

You’ll remember a while back, we talked about what the Democratic candidates had to say about Keystone XL and climate change issues related to it, and we promised to turn the spotlight on Republican candidates’ views as well. I intended to get to that once the GOP field had settled down into a discrete group, but that has yet to happen.

The simplest way to put it is, all of them support KXL, most repeating some combination of the lies attached to KXL, including jobs, energy security, and safety. (Our friends at Grist have compiled a nice collection of the candidates’ public statements on KXL.) And almost all of them have highly questionable stances on climate change, to put it charitably.

The notable exceptions to the climate-denying rule are former New York Gov. George Pataki, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who acknowledged in May that climate change is real and human activity is playing an important role in it. Christie has good reason to peel away from the rest of the herd: his state suffered billions of dollars in damage and 12 deaths from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. While Sandy can’t be linked definitively to global warming, scientists say more and more powerful storms can be expected as ocean temperatures rise.

Some of the devastation in New Jersey caused by Hurricane Sandy. Photo taken by National Guard rescue crew, Oct. 30, 2012.

Rising oceans are already causing problems in Florida, but that state’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, and former Gov. Jeb Bush aren’t giving much attention to global warming. Jeb is in the “we don’t know enough” camp, and Rubio is in the “don’t say anything that can be used against you” camp.

Interestingly, while the entire GOP field claims some measure of religiosity, none of them have come to terms with the fact that leaders for all of the major religions have called for action in combating global warming.

The latest faith to do so is Islam, whose leading scholars and clerics released a statement this week that condemns exploitation of the planet’s resources and despoilment of its air and water. An international symposium in Istanbul denounced poor stewardship of the Earth, motivated by greed and lacking concern for humanity and other residents of the planet. Its demands were clear and hard-hitting, including this:

“We call on the people of all nations and their leaders to –

  • Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;
  • Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities;
  • Invest in decentralized renewable energy, which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;
  • Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to come.
  • Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.
  • Prioritise adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.”

With that, Islam joins the Roman Catholic Church, which this summer issued a highly controversial papal encyclical that likewise denounced the greed and inhumanity of unfettered capitalism as a driving force for global warming and other social and environmental ills. Likewise, more than 400 rabbis offered their support this June for “unity of justice and Earth-healing,” describing it as part of the Jewish call to fight for social justice and the Torah’s teachings of benevolent stewardship of the land.

Leaders of the Hindu faithful, one billion strong, were way ahead of the curve on climate change, issuing their declaration in 2009, calling not only on nations but on individual Hindus to change their ways to minimize their impact on Earth. They wrote:

Our beloved Earth, so touchingly looked upon as the Universal Mother, has nurtured mankind through millions of years of growth and evolution. Now centuries of rapacious exploitation of the planet have caught up with us, and a radical change in our relationship with nature is no longer an option. It is a matter of survival. We cannot continue to destroy nature without also destroying ourselves. The dire problems besetting our world–war, disease, poverty and hunger–will all be magnified many fold by the predicted impacts of climate change.

The Dalai Lama, the foremost recognizable leader of the Buddhist faith, also spoke out in 2009, saying before a meeting of industrialized nations in Australia, ”Sometimes their number one importance is national interest, national economic interest, then global (warming) issue is sometimes second. That I think should change. The global issue, it should be number one.”

A large number of Protestant faiths have also issued statements on global warming, encouraging the faithful and their leaders to mend their ways to stop and roll back the harms done by carbon pollution.

Clearly, the religious traditions that lay claim to the hearts and souls of the vast majority of the planet’s population speak with one voice: everyone– individuals, corporations, nations alike– needs to respect the planet and take all necessary steps in all due haste to mitigate the damage climate has done and will continue to do.

So as they preach their “values” bona fides to the Republican voters, perhaps the candidates can square their religiosity with their unyielding support for the Keystone XL project, and the global warming it will exacerbate.

It’s getting a little crowded out here in the vanguard.

Back in April, I read the tea leaves and chicken entrails and came to the most logical conclusion: President Obama will reject the Keystone XL pipeline. At the time, it seemed like kind of a big deal. The president had recently vetoed Congress’s effort to force him to approve the pipeline, just as he had promised to do, but only because it was an attempt to short-circuit the State Department’s review process and usurp the president’s authority to decide such matters. TransCanada was continuing its full-court press, trying to convince everyone that everything was going fine….

Since then, the news has only gotten worse for pipeline supporters. As a result, more interested parties are coming forward to say they’ve reached the same conclusion. We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.Dak.) cited unnamed sources close to the decision-making process told him KXL was a no-goLast week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Energy Committee, said she also believes the pipeline will not be approved. Her words to Bloomberg News were clear and succinct: “I don’t see a scenario where the president would sign off on Keystone.”

In the four months since I made my prediction, the clues that led Sen. Murkowski to her conclusion have been consistent, and consistently bad for TransCanada. The New Democratic Party’s astounding victory in Alberta’s elections meant that Big Oil would no longer have the provincial government acting as its handmaiden. Market forces, driving the price of oil down and the cost of tar sands processing up, colluded to make KXL a dead letter, according to some industry analysts. Add to that an increase in corporate taxes in Alberta, and suddenly the tar sands industry is curling up into a defensive ball and waiting for the troubles to pass.

That’s just the nuts-and-bolts issue. The farther reaching issues of global warming and efforts to stop it may provide an even steeper hill to climb.

Last week, the White House unveiled the president’s plan to tackle carbon emissions directly. It’s a bold plan that requires every state to reduce its carbon emissions, and it quickly drew criticism from states that produce coal and/or rely heavily on it for energy. But lest anyone claim that this is an example of an anti-business Democrat throwing commerce under the bus to placate the environmental lobby, at least 13 major corporations have signed on in support– not alternative energy companies that stand to benefit from a move away from coal, but industry leaders like WalMart, Google, Coca-Cola, Apple and Goldman Sachs.

This should not have come as a surprise to anybody, as the administration has been moving briskly in the direction of carbon reduction. From the unprecedented agreement with China to the groundbreaking consensus reached at the G7 conference, all of the White House’s international diplomacy efforts on the environment have pushed an agenda that accepts global warming as an international crisis, and takes appropriate steps to confront it.


Photo of a section of pipe in the original Keystone pipeline showing extreme corrosion– wearing through 98 percent of the pipe’s thickness– introduced in the South Dakota hearings. Courtesy DeSmogBlog.

Add to that a Department of Energy analysis that concludes tar sands is every bit as filthy an energy source as its critics said it was, a disastrous pipeline rupture on the California coast, and a nine-day permit review process in South Dakota that highlighted the extreme risks that TransCanada’s shoddy workmanship poses to the nation’s heartland… well, you’re not going to find too many people who aren’t getting paid for the effort saying the pipeline is just the best thing for the American people. (Charles P. Pierce of Esquire, a cantankerous curmudgeon on the KXL question (meant in the most appreciative way), has a bit of blow-by-blow reporting on the South Dakota hearings, and it gives KXL opponents yet another reason to believe the pipeline is headed for the dustbin of history.)

There are, of course, those trying to wave Very Scary Things about to try to convince you that rejecting Keystone XL is going to wreak havoc on America. Several Canadian outlets say TransCanada has accepted that the KXL application will be rejected, but they’re going to make the rejection costly to the U.S.

For instance, there’s the threat the TransCanada might sue the U.S. government under NAFTA provisions to recoup the cost of pipe that it purchased in anticipation of getting the approval it’s been seeking for more than six years. Even the Calgary Herald, a newspaper from the heart of Canada’s oil country, says that’s a longshot at best. It may also simply file another permit application, keeping the issue hot in the U.S. presidential election.

There’s also the threat– if you could call it that– that rejecting KXL would sour U.S.-Canadian relations. That might very well be true. But on the other hand, so what? If your neighbor starts throwing his garbage over your back fence to save money on waste disposal, do you care if he thinks you’re a jerk when you tell him to knock it off?

And that question gets straight to the heart of the matter, right where it has always been. Why is it up to Americans to surrender their property, put their land and water at risk, endanger their environment and their children’s health in perpetuity, for the profit of a Canadian corporation, so that Canadian oil producers can sell their wares on the global market? Opponents of Keystone XL have said it all along, and it remains as true now as when it was first uttered: Keystone XL is all risk and no reward for the American people.

The picture is becoming ever-clearer that President Obama feels the same way.

There’s a lot of interesting news happening around Keystone XL, as backstage shenanigans and government double-speak were outed this past week.

Mike DeSouza at Inside Climate News has a story about Evan Vokes, the TransCanada engineer-turned-whistleblower who outed the company for its many, many failings on pipeline safety and workmanship in Canada. DeSouza writes that TransCanada retaliated to Vokes’ coming forward with this information by deliberately trying to smear him as a “disgruntled” former employee and putting his reliability in question.

The smear campaign was evidenced by internal TransCanada emails that Vokes uncovered through a Canadian privacy law. DeSouza writes:

Vokes obtained the latest email in February 2014 following a request he made through Canadian legislation that protects personal information. TransCanada censored large portions of the message before releasing it, but one section of the email mentions what was described as “managing the EV [Evan Vokes] credibility issue.”

“My understanding is that we have been reasonably successful at influencing authorities [portion censored] and pointing out EV is disgruntled, and actually had the responsibility to correct these same matters and did not,” said the email, dated July 26, 2013.

What follows this disclosure is a slew dodging and “no comment” by TransCanada, Canadian and U.S. government officials, and anyone else who might want to avoid scrutiny as part of the scheme to deliberately harm the reputation of a conscientious man who stood up for the public good. Vokes’ complaints, by the way, were validated when Canadian regulators investigated TransCanada’s handling of the issues Vokes raised, and found Vokes was telling the truth about TransCanada’s shoddy standards. 

Another example of shoddy work was pointed out by Greg Awtry, publisher of the Scotts Bluff Star Herald in Nebraska.

He took to task the governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts (R), for a couple of pretty significant errors in a letter the governor wrote to President Obama, encouraging him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Trouble for Ricketts is, the errors were about the very same issues that have Nebraskans of every political stripe joining hands to fight KXL. To wit:

“Dear Mr. President,

As you are aware, the Keystone XL pipeline route in Nebraska was revised to bypass the Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer.”

Whoa, are you kidding me! Gov. Ricketts actually wrote that? If he did, then Ricketts is either, (1) completely naïve on the entire KXL issue, (2) received misinformation and failed to have his staff fact check his letter, or (3) trying to deceive the citizens of Nebraska knowing full well the KXL actually crosses more miles of the Ogallala Aquifer than before TransCanada rerouted the pipeline path a few miles to the east up near Holt County.

Regardless of the motive behind Ricketts’ letter, the truth is our governor was dead wrong is his reference to the aquifer. It is not only embarrassing he could make such an outrageous error; it’s an insult to the citizens of Nebraska. Gov. Ricketts should know better.

What follows that is an epic beatdown of every claim the governor made in his letter to Obama, a spectacular listing of all the harms that could befall Nebraska when KXL inevitably fails, all of the special treatment tar sands oil gets from the government, and a litany of every way Keystone XL is wrong for Nebraska and for America.

 

If every newspaper publisher in America paid as close attention as Awtry does to the loose handle on truth government leaders hold, this Keystone XL boondoggle would have been laughed out of existence long ago.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission is beginning its second go-round on the Keystone XL permit this week. The years-long delay in getting the pipeline built and buried under environmentally sensitive and economically vital land– and over the most important freshwater aquifer in the  U.S.– made the previous permit lapse. So now TransCanada will have to persuade the PUC to give them the authority to put South Dakotans’ property at risk for foreign corporations’ profit.

As you might imagine, this is quite a controversial subject. Many South Dakotans don’t want their land threatened by toxic pollution  for the benefit of foreign corporations. Some of them are so bothered by the idea that they want to address the PUC and tell them just how little they want their land rendered a “sacrifice zone” for foreign corporate profit. And the PUC has to listen.

But the commission doesn’t have to listen to everyone who wants to tell them what a truly rotten idea this whole Keystone XL thing is. In fact, the PUC gets to decide that some people, no matter how well qualified they are to speak on the risks and rewards of KXL, don’t have a right to be heard at all.

One such persona non grata is NASA’s former head climatologist, James Hansen.

If that name rings a bell, it’s probably because Hansen is probably the most famous climatologist in the world. He is most famous for one phrase in particular:

GAME OVER.

That’s how he described what would happen to our climate if Keystone XL is built. By enabling faster and more effective exploitation of the tar sands and all of the carbon buried within them, Hansen reasoned, KXL would make the consequences of catastrophic climate change unavoidable. With sea levels and polar ice caps already in flux, he has not backed down from that claim.

While conservatives and corporatists try to paint Hansen as an “alarmist” whose opinion should be disregarded, the rest of the climate science world is backing up his position.

Huge proportions of known fossil-fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to prevent the environmental calamity Hansen predicts, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature. The World Bank, which monitors all manner of issues with global economic impact, says it’s already too late to stop global warming from reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius increase– two degrees is thought to be the tipping point where society as we know it is under existential threat. Meanwhile,  air pollution and climate change could lead to global famine.

It seems far from being an alarmist, Dr. Hansen is actually quite measured in his assertions. And science backs him up.

The South Dakota PUC won’t hear of it, though, in any event. Dr. Hansen’s words of wisdom and warning are not welcome in Pierre. But the PUC’s reluctance to hear them doesn’t make Hansen’s words any less accurate. It only renders the PUC’s ultimate decision based on incomplete data.

Willful ignorance seems like a very bad way to make public policy.

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Julie Dermansky at DeSmogBlog, of whom I’m a big fan, has a great article on tthe facts about its pipeline safety record that TransCanada is trying to hide. I highly recommend it.