Clean Energy Rocks!

Clean Energy Rocks!

Old "school" graphic designed by the amazing Jason Rutter (my brother)

Old “school” graphic designed by the amazing Jason Rutter (my brother)


What started off as a green home and alternative energy talk for my son’s science class has evolved into an epic eco tour of Illinois’ and Chicagolands’s flourishing clean energy scene.  Last year, Ms. Goldberg asked me to give a few 30 minutes talks to her sixth grade classes. Since I’ve come across SO many compelling clean energy projects, I put together a jam-packed slideshow. The students seemed keenly interested and asked super smart questions.  Over the summer,  a mom mentioned my presentation was the only thing her daughter came home and spoke about passionately the whole year.  I couldn’t resist upping my game when Ms. Goldberg asked me back to class this year.  After boiling down even more cool information, over 70 slides now include the drawbacks of fossil fuels(16 slides), clean energy today (23 slides), energy saving features of our home (19 slides), and green jobs (18 slides/40+ changemakers featured).  Best of all, most everything and everyone featured is local.  Students love to hear that Illinois is #4 in the U.S. for wind power, Chicagoland’s rooftops and brownfields are going solar, Illinois is #1 in the country for green building, 25+ electric car models will be available in 2014, and biofuel is locally made from french fry grease, algae and cow waste.  Following more enthusiastic response from this year’s science classes, I’ve converted my iPhoto slides to Powerpoint with side notes, so now you can see it and share it too.  The possibilities of clean energy are truly exciting, and hopefully these examples will inspire way more to come.


Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.05.39 PM


Click HERE to see the PowerPoint and CLICK “NOTES” in the lower right corner (unfortunately my zillion links/sources did not come through in this format, but are available upon request)


Student tested & approved.  Some rave reviews from Ms. Goldberg’s class:

… it was really fun to listen about the alternative energy sources 

… I liked many cool green energy substitutes like algae

… I really liked the mini wind turbines for more urban areas

… we particularly liked the french fry grease converter

… I didn’t know you could do that many things around your house

… I liked your roof with the solar panels

… it was exciting to see the rug made from plastic bottles

… I might try to do some of those things in my house

… we liked how many cool things that people are doing to make a difference in the environment


A sampling of some wonderful eco-artwork by Ms. Goldberg's class, from student's thoughtful thank you notes

Some wonderful eco-artwork included in thank you notes from Ms. Goldberg’s class this year.


NASCAR’s Green Gamechanger

NASCAR’s Green Gamechanger



Last week, at the NASCAR Green Summit, keynote speaker Al Gore admitted he once thought NASCAR and green were as likely together as sharks and tornadoes.  Well, shark-nado has surfaced.  To my surprise, America’s biggest sport, with over 100 million fans, has become a leader in sustainability.  The half-day gathering at the Spertus Institute in Chicago celebrated the fifth anniversary of NASCAR’s innovative green initiatives. Curious? Here’s what I learned about their eco-forward leadership.




solar poconoStrategic partnerships with teams, tracks and 25 official partners/sponsors has enabled NASCAR Green to set sustainable benchmarks.  Their on- and off-track green platform includes:


  • corporate headquarters in Daytona Beach that has achieved  LEED Gold certification
  •  installation of 20 Eaton Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at NASCAR offices in Daytona Beach, Charlotte and Concord.
  • a massive tree planting effort  sponsored by UPS (over 166,000 trees) that offsets 100% of the emissions produced by on-track racing
  • six raceways use renewable energy, including the Pocono Raceway – the world’s largest solar-powered sports facility
  • at track beverage container recycling with Coca-Cola, Miller and Coors, at track cell phone recycling as part of Sprint’s “Recycle for Victory” program, automotive fluids recycling with Safety-Kleen, and Goodyear tire recycling with Liberty Tire. NASCAR is considered the largest recycler in sports.
  • racetracks and at track parking lots across the country repaved using Liberty Tire Recycling rubberized asphalt
  • use and promotion of Green Earth Technologies clean and green, American-made automotive lubricants and cleaners, as well as  household cleaning products
  • a biofuels program using 15% ethanol blended fuel with partners Sunoco, American Ethanol and the National Corn Growers Association. Since 2011, NASCAR has surpassed four million miles driven across its three national series on Sunoco Green E15.


 It just so happened the summit fell on the twelfth anniversary of 9/11.  4 star General Wes Clark, Supreme Allied Commander made a patriotic case for moving away from petroleum and energy security.  He reviewed how the US  thirst for oil has made our country vulnerable to economic crisis due to oil monopolies.  In the past 40 years we’ve spent trillions of dollars and lost countless lives to protect our access to oil, with devastating wars from Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly now Syria.  We spend $300 billion each year to import oil annually.  Energy independence reduces our risk of American involvement in volatile regions.  He commended NASCAR  for making “a real contribution to America and national security” by taking a lead to wean off foreign oil with 15% domestic ethanol fuel.

It just so happened the Summit fell on the twelfth anniversary of 9/11.  General Wesley Clark made a patriotic case for moving away from petroleum and toward energy security. He reviewed how the U.S. thirst for oil has made our country vulnerable to economic crises due to oil monopolies and military conflicts to protect our access to foreign oil in volatile regions.  In the past 40 years, we’ve spent trillions of dollars and lost countless lives from devastating wars in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly now Syria. We spend $300 billion each year to import oil annually.  He commended NASCAR for making “a real contribution to America and national security” by taking a lead to wean off foreign oil with 15% domestic ethanol fuel.  And he made it clear that “energy, climate change and national security are all connected.”



Incubating & Showcasing Green Tech 

Other critical partners in motor sports naturally include the auto industry.  Ford, Chevy/G.M. and Toyota executives presenting at the Summit stressed their shift toward sustainability.  “This is not greenwashing – it’s real stuff,” noted the Chevy Volt manufacturer.  While admitting “there’s no silver bullet…one size doesn’t fit all…it’s a progression not a stop start” in the greening of transportation, they are working on a variety of  advanced technologies to power cars without petroleum including biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, electrification, liquified natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen fuel cells.  Success will depend on continued joint

The Ford Fusion Energi was the 2013 Official Pace Cart, the first  plug-in EV,  at the Sprint Cup Series.  Photo from

Somebody killed the electric car in the ’90s and now it’s back!  The Ford Fusion Energi was the 2013 Official Pace Cart, the first plug-in EV, at the Sprint Cup Series. Photo from

development partnerships, enablers and infrastructure.  Nothing offers better street cred for broader public adoption than racing venues.  NASCAR has been turning the spotlight on relevant new tech advancements from hybrids to electric cars. Electric pace cars, such as the Ford Focus and Fusion Energi, demonstrate that EVs are cool to drive without any compromise in performance.  After all, if it’s good enough for NASCAR, consumers are more willing to buy-in.




Driving Cultural Shifts for Environmental Action

Most importantly, NASCAR is using its massive influence to transform the way their fans think about the environment.   The high visibility, unashamedly green sponsorships – flaunted on uniforms, cars and raceway signage – help green brands and eco-friendly efforts, such recycling, renewable energy and toxic chemicals reduction, go mainstream.  According to a 2012 study, NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to view their household as very green and always looking for new ways to positively impact the environment.  As Al Gore put it, “When a beloved organization stands up, it makes a difference.”  People take notice of the green values projected by NASCAR and ideally embrace these responsible behaviors as well.





More to Come

In addition to recognizing the eco-efforts of commercial sponsors and track operators at the Summit, NASCAR announced several new, somewhat unorthodox collaborations with non-profit leaders:


  • Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)   NASCAR and NRDC will work together to promote energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, and recycling and composting of wastes at racing facilities and corporate facilities, as well as the marketing of healthier food and fan education.


  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) –  NASCAR and DOE will advance the adoption of clean energy technologies. Additionally, they will partner on clean energy and auto-related research with universities, national laboratories, and private sector companies.


  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – NASCAR and the EPA will work together to increase environmental performance and raise awareness of green products and solutions that can benefit NASCAR partners and fans.  NASCAR will encourage its suppliers to get Economy, Energy and Environment (E3) tune-ups, help promote sustainable manufacturing and economic growth throughout the country, deliver more sustainable concessions at NASCAR events, expand the use of safer chemical products (that have earned EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) label), conserve water, reduce waste and promote recycling.  


Vice President of the United States & Chairman of The Climate Reality Project, Al Gore couldn’t hold back from suggesting maybe it’s time for Elon Musk of Tesla to sponsor a car and perhaps NASCAR should race ALL electric cars!

Vice President of the United States & Chairman of The Climate Reality Project, Al Gore couldn’t hold back from suggesting maybe it’s time for Elon Musk of Tesla to sponsor a car and perhaps NASCAR should race ALL electric cars!

Granted, this popular pastime revolves around fast cars burning a gallon of fuel every four to five miles and the consumption of plenty of other resources along the way.  Still, considering the positive influences and overall impact, NASCAR’s environmental efforts are a big deal.  As Al Gore stated,  “let’s keep going…our work is not over yet.”  On an uncommonly hot day in Chicago, he pointed out Daytona Beach and Florida, home of NASCAR corporate headquarters and the prestigious Daytona 500, are most at risk from climate change.





Hey, what about the rest of spectator sports?

NRDC Game ChangerGoing green makes business sense to all teams and arenas!  As NRDC points out, sustainability initiatives can offer direct financial savings, attract green sponsors, improve brand image, enhance the fan experience, strengthen community ties and spur on local economic growth. Under the leadership of Allen Hershkowitz, NRDC has been greening the games with all major sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the United States Tennis Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.


The sports industry’s growing embrace of energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycling, water conservation, safer chemicals and healthier food is educating millions of fans about the importance of protecting the environment and natural resources on which we all depend. Through their leadership on the field, court, rink or track, professional and collegiate sports—and their sponsors—are showing their many fans practical, cost-effective solutions to some of our planet’s most dire ecological issues.


Check out the NRDC Game Changer report which overviews five league jewel events, such as MLB All-Star Games and the U.S. Open, as well as case studies of sixteen professional teams and venues.  Some key findings: 15 North American stadiums have achieved LEED green building certification, 18 have on-site solar arrays, 38 teams use some renewable energy, 68 teams have energy efficiency programs, virtually all have recycling and/or composting programs, and all leagues educate fans about environmental issues.  See this website for more info and videos.


Sadly, in the green city of Chicago, no teams/stadiums are leading in environmental stewardship.  Come on, if NASCAR can blaze an eco-friendly trail, surely our beloved hometown teams can follow pace!




What's a fifteen-year NY Ranger, three-time NHL All-Star, Stanley Cup Champion, Silver Medal Olympian and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee to do after retiring? Mike Richter enrolled in Yale University and received his degree in Ethics, Politics, and Economics with a concentration in Environmental Policy. In 2007, he helped found Environmental Capital Partners, a $100M Private Equity Fund focusing on resource efficiency. Mike’s current venture, Healthy Planet Partners, finances and manages the deployment of renewable energy technologies and energy saving retrofits for commercial facilities. How cool is that!

What’s a fifteen-year NY Ranger, three-time NHL All-Star, Stanley Cup Champion, Silver Medal Olympian and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee to do after retiring? Mike Richter enrolled in Yale University and received his degree in Ethics, Politics, and Economics with a concentration in Environmental Policy. In 2007, he helped found Environmental Capital Partners, a private equity fund focusing on resource efficiency. Mike’s current venture, Healthy Planet Partners, finances and manages the deployment of renewable energy technologies and energy saving retrofits for commercial facilities. My idea of a sport’s hero! (also presenting at the Summit)


Well, Hello, Divvy!  Bike Sharing Rolls Out in Chicago

Well, Hello, Divvy! Bike Sharing Rolls Out in Chicago


Next time you head downtown, why not take the train and bike the rest?


Mayor Emmanuel kicks the Chicago's new Bikesharin. Image from Divvy's Facebook page.

Mayor Emmanuel lifted the kickstand for Chicago’s new Divvy bike-sharing program in June 2013. Image from Divvy’s Facebook page.

Chicago’s new bike-sharing program, dubbed Divvy, may help you reach the final mile.  Intended to provide Chicagoans with another option for moving around the city, this bike sharing network provides a fleet of durable, heavy-duty bikes designed for low-cost, short term use.  Divvy will offer 4,000 bikes at over 400 stations spread across the city (the first 75 now open), available for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Divvy bikes can be rented from and returned to any station in the system, with two times more docking points than bicycles, assuring easy return of bikes is always nearby.



The concept of the program is to provide a quick, inexpensive transportation option on the last mile or so of trips for commuters getting off CTA or Metra trains, as well as creating an alternative to riding taxis or buses during peak hours on traffic-clogged streets.”  Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune


Starting off in Europe, modern public/private bike sharing programs from Portland, Oregon to Washington D.C. have spun out across the Unites States.  This summer, new programs have also been launched in New York City and San Francisco.  Divvy is a program of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), which owns all of the system’s bikes, stations and vehicles. Initial funding for the program comes from federal grants for projects that promote economic recovery, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, as well as additional funds from the City’s Tax Increment Financing program.


You know 40 percent of trips in urban areas are 2 miles or less, but 90 percent of those trips are taken in a car. So, you can do the math, you know. If we can move 20, 30 percent of those people to walking or biking that frees up a lot of capacity for people to drive that need to.”  Gabe Klein, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation on NPR’s All Things Considered





In order to give this fun, easy, and affordable option a spin, become a Founding Member here.




Thanks to Nancy Kohn’s newsletter for the scoop.

Time to Plug In

Time to Plug In

Apt license plate featured in the Revenge of the Electric Car film produced by Chicago social entrepreneur Stefano Durdic.


Electric Cars Get Some Love


Around the same time the documentary Revenge of the Electric Car premièred in Chicago this past November, a silent revolution on the roads started as new electric vehicles (EVs) began gliding out of local dealerships. Chuck Frank of Highland Park (and Sierra Club Foundation board member) took ownership of one of Chicagoland’s first Chevy Volts and is confident new plug-ins will forever change the way America drives.


Since November, I’ve been learning first hand why the groundbreaking Volt is Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year.  Riding in my sporty new car is super smooth and so quiet Chevy added a soft horn “chirp” to alert pedestrians.  Designed with the latest technology and loaded with creature comforts, the car delivers in every possible way.  The big difference is I plug it into an outlet in my garage every night.  The next day I can drive up to 40 miles on a full electric charge (costing about $1.50).  Past that, the gas tank can extend my driving range for another

2012 Chevy Volt

 Thanks to plugging in, I still haven’t bought any gas yet.  At this rate, I’ll only need to fill my tank twice a year!

300 miles.  Every Volt owner I’ve met so far adores the car, and apparently we aren’t the only happy customers.  It was the highest rated auto in Consumer Reports’ 2011 owner-satisfaction survey (ahead of the Porsche 911).  People are turning to plugs-ins because they are the most fuel efficient, reduce oil dependence, and decrease global warming emissions.  Clean cars are also driving innovation and job growth.  From battery researchers and electricians to auto manufacturers and component suppliers, electrified vehicles are creating good green jobs in the Midwest.



Clearing up some misperceptions

Despite all the benefits, the hype of EV skeptics lingers on.  Since plug ins are still new and somewhat elusive, I’d like to address some surprising comments that have come my way:


“too bad the Volt didn’t work out”  It’s still early in the game.

The Chevy Volt just became available for sale in Chicago this past November and nationwide in February 2012, and purchases are gradually rising.  GM may have overestimated early sales, so they temporarily scaled back production to catch up on demand.  Keep in mind the top-selling Toyota Prius sold just 5,500 cars in the U.S. when the hybrid debuted in 2000

Fisker north shore

Check out the amazing electric Karma at Fisker North Shore in Northfield. The Fields Auto Group’s LEED certified dealership saves 40% of energy with on-site wind turbines and solar panels shown here.

(around 7,700 Volts sold in 2011).  The Nissan LEAF, “the world’s first affordable, zero-emission car” with a driving range of 100 miles, also became locally available by factory order in December.  Although the Japan earthquake and tsunami temporarily slowed production, a dedicated LEAF plant in Tennessee will boost domestic production starting in 2013.  Plug-ins will soon be the new normal, many more are here or on the way.  Now through 2013, expect to see the Toyota Prius Plug in & RAV4 EV, Tesla Model S sedan & Model X SUV, Audi e-tron, Cadilac ELR, Honda Fit EV, Ford Focus EV & C-MAX Energi, Mitsubishi iEV, Fisker Karma, Fiat 500SMARTForTwo, CODA sedan and others.  President Obama set a national goal to put 1 million plug-in vehicles on US roads by 2015.  Although that might be bit optimistic, analysts have high hopes for the long term.  The question remains, how soon will the buyer’s market catch on.


tesla s sedan

More than 8,000 people have reserved the forthcoming Tesla Model-S, including my friends Nate and Nancy, which is expected to debut this July.  Can’t wait to see it!


electric cars are too expensive  The economics will become increasingly attractive to buyers.

Currently the Volt is $39,145 and Nissan Leaf is $35,200.  Great incentives including the $7,500 federal tax credit and up to $4,000 Illinois rebate can significantly reduce the price.

IMiev in EVtown...Normal, IL

Kudos to Normal, IL for being recognized as a top city for electric cars. Mayor Chris Koos turning his city into an EVTown. Federal, state and local tax rebates bring down the price of the Mitsubishi iMiev to $21,625. Mitsubishi is also helping install 30 high-speed charging stations. Pix courtesy of

At this point, electric cars may cost more to buy, but they cost much less to run, especially if gas prices continue to rise to $5 a gallon or more.  It costs 3.5 cents per mile to “fuel” a Nissan Leaf (at the national average of 11 cents/kWh of electricity) and it costs 21 cents per mile for the average 21 mpg car at today’s gas price of $4.50.  Like any other new technology, the first generation of electric cars carries a higher price tag.  Innovations in battery technology are expected to make plug-ins more cost competitive with gas powered cars in the near future.  Tesla’s simple master plan sums up the economics of EV iterations:       1. Build sports car  2. Use that money to build an affordable car  3. Use that money to build an even more affordable car…




“EV production has stopped due to limited charging stations”  Not true.
chicagoland charging stations from Chargepoint

Looking for nearby charging stations?’ There’s an app for that. ChargePoint (shown here) and PlugShare display stations throughout the U.S.

While range anxiety is a legitimate issue, charging infrastructure is expanding along with EV production.  Most electric cars can go up to 100 miles before recharging.  Since 80% of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day, EV range may be adequate for many drivers.  Homeowners will likely charge EVs in a garage socket overnight.  With a typical 110-volt charge, it takes 10 hours to fully charge a Volt and 18 hours for a Leaf.  Most challenges are faced by multi-unit residences with common parking facilities absent of power hook ups and drivers needing daytime fill-ups.  Public charging stations have been popping up to accommodate EVs.  Gov. Quinn has invested in charging infrastructure to “make electric vehicle use more accessible and convenient.”  With state and federal funding, 350Green will install and operate total of 280 Chicagoland charging stations by 2012, including 146 Level 2 chargers and 73 DC Fast stations in downtown parking garages, Midway and O’Hare Airports, grocery stores, shopping centers and tollway oasis 7-Elevens. Locally Northbrook installed a station at Village Hall and the City of Evanston plans to install solar canopies and charging stations at three city-owned parking lots.

Northfield, IL Walgreens electric car charging station

Local EV charging stations are available at Walgreens (Northfield shown here) and Whole Foods (my son gleefully spotted last week).

Deerfield-based Walgreens is leading the way as the first retailer to install charging stations at its stores, now available a the Northfield, Highland Park and Evanston locations.  Chargers have also been recently installed at local Whole Foods and Nissan dealerships. Other big box chains such as Walmart, Lowes, Kohls, Macy’s, IKEA and Best Buy have added charging capability for customers in parts of the US, hopefully here too at some point.  More EVs on the streets will likely prompt continued government infrastructure development and commercial installations to attract and service captive plugged in consumers.  Next time parking downtown, check out the city’s greenest parking garage (and EV chargers) at the GREENWAY Self Park at Clark & Kinzie.





solar charging station northerly island

This solar powered charging canopy at Northerly Island offers an incredible view.  Pix from



aren’t you afraid your Volt will spontaneously combust?  Not really.

Recently media coverage focused on two fires that occurred days and weeks after extreme test crashes of the Volt.  GM has been adamant that the Volt is a safe car before, during and immediately after a crash, and has earned a 5-star safety rating.  In January, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its fire investigation without finding a single defect in the Volt.  For peace of mind, GM is adding precautionary reinforcements.

newt gingrich

Why have EVs become a political target?  Newt Gingrich recently sniped “you can’t put a gun rack on the Chevy Volt.” GM responded actually you can, but who puts a gun rack on a sedan? Shouldn’t our leaders be celebrating American innovation and energy security?” Pix from Steve Pope/Getty Images at

While it’s absolutely critical to address safety concerns, it’s important to keep some perspective. While no real world fire incidents have ever occured in a Volt, over a quarter of a million conventional cars catch fire every year, injuring and possibly killing passengers.  Why have more dangerous fire-related recalls escaped media attention? Likely this faux scandal has political roots.





“the carbon footprint and emissions of EVs are not any better than regular cars”  Not true.

Actually EVs and hybrids have a smaller overall carbon footprint when considering the vehicle’s full lifecycle.  Why Electric Cars are Cleaner details how an electric vehicle creates about

which car pollutes the most

Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found at

19 tons of Co2 over its lifespan while a comparable gas engine sedan generates approximately 24 tons of Co2 during its entire lifecycle. While electric and hybrid vehicles may generate more carbon emissions than conventional vehicles during the manufacturing process (mostly due to battery production), plug ins emit little to no tailpipe pollutants.  When it comes to upstream emissions, conventional cars generate carbon from extracting, refining and transporting crude and gas.  EVs upstream carbon output depends on how the local power plant generates electricity.  The more power is generated by nuclear and renewable energy, the lower the carbon footprint.  As for a recent report that claims air pollution is worse with EV traffic, it should be pointed out the study was based in China where dirtier coal-fired plants are predominantly used for electric generation and pollution control standards are much less stringent then in the U.S.



Check out the new electric cars, maybe you’ll become an early adopter too

I’ll admit, it’s fun driving my Volt, especially right past the gas station.  It’s also refreshing to see the auto industry finally promoting the virtues of fuel efficiency.  While the Jennifer Lopez “Bronx Streets” Fiat video caught some heat for being shot in LA, maybe the bigger story should have been that carmakers are finally trying to elevate the hip factor of eco-smart cars! Ultimately, true revenge of the electric car will hinge on continued technological advances, thoughtful infrastructure development and supportive policies.



. . .



After test driving the Volt for a week last May, I helped several Chicagoland eco-influencers take test spins and recruited teams to compete in a Volt eco-scavenger hunt.  Find out who won between the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), Illinois Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)…





The documentary Revenge of the Electric Car is available on iTunes & Netflix, and is soon coming to PBS.  


Pipeline Interrupted?

Pipeline Interrupted?



The Keystone XL pipeline has become a hot topic lately.


So what’s the big fuss about?  The Canadian company TransCanada has proposed a 1,700-mile pipeline to bring Northern Alberta tar sands oil across the United States to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.  The oil industry and Canadian officials are strongly committed to this $6 billion dollar project, promoting it’s a slam dunk for U.S. jobs and energy security.  Not so fast, counters diverse opposition insisting the pipeline is not in America’s best interests upon taking a closer look.  I happen to agree and here’s why (including a few local impacts).  


Top 10 Reasons why the Keystone XL Pipeline is a BAD DEAL


Export Motive

Courtesy of NRDC

It is often overlooked that the Keystone pipeline would NOT be dedicated to supply oil for the US.  In fact, TransCanada has refused the condition that the pipeline’s oil be used only in the US.  The purpose of Keystone is to provide a pathway for Canadian oil to the world market.  Currently, 97% of Canada’s oil exports are pipelined to US refineries in the Midwest.  Keystone would redirect Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries, opening access to international buyers.  Selling this commodity in the global marketplace would command a higher price and maximize oil industry profits.  Canada has made no secret about their interest in expanding oil production and diversifying their energy markets.  As it is now, Alberta’s tar sands are landlocked and TransCanada faces difficulty in building a pipeline to its own western coasts for exportation due to Canadian public opposition and First Nations roadblocks.  For a much fuller explanation see Keystone XL: Undermining US Energy Security and Sending Tar Sands Overseas.


Higher Midwest Gas Prices

Most people may not realize that the Keystone pipeline will actually drive UP local gas prices by bypassing Midwest and Chicago refineries.  Tar sands producers are interested in redirecting Canadian crude to the tax-free Foreign Trade Zone in Port Arthur, Texas.  Not only would the pipeline allow oil producers to sell to international buyers at higher prices, but also avoid taxes.  Economist Philip Verleger noted last spring that KXL pipeline would drive up gas prices by 10 or 20 cents a gallon in the Midwest.  Reports from Corporate Ethics International and Plains Justice concur that overbuilt pipeline capacity, expensive tar sands production, and global energy markets will lead to higher prices.  Even TransCanada has acknowledged that KXL would increase the cost of Canadian crude by more than $6 per barrel in the Midwest market, increasing the price paid by the market between $2 billion and $3.9 billion a year.  While lucrative to the oil industry, the KXL pipeline would hurt the pocketbooks of local consumers.


Energy Security

Importing oil from a friendly neighbor is no cure against price spikes and oil shortages in global energy markets.  In terms of avoiding “unethical” imported oil, a 2010 analysis commissioned by the Department of Energy concluded that eliminating Middle East crude imports longer term would have little to do with the Keystone XL.  Furthermore, retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson wrote in an op ed the KXL pipeline “would move dirty oil from Canada to refineries in Texas and would set back our renewable energy efforts for at least two decades, much to our enemies’ delight.  It would ensure we maintain our oil addiction and delay making the tough decisions regarding energy production, management and conservation that we need to start making today.”  Energy security can only be achieved by reducing our dependence on oil.


Overstated Jobs

TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute and other pipeline proponents have repeatedly claimed KXL project will create from 20,000 to 200,000 American jobs.  Upon further examination, a Cornell study concluded these job estimates are unsubstantiated and KXL will not only create fewer jobs than industry states, but could actually kill more jobs than it creates.  The State Department estimates that KXL would generate at most 6,000 temporary construction jobs, and very few would be local hires.


The BEST Keystone XL pipeline video I’ve seen!  Bill McKibben sets Steven Colbert straight about killing “billions of jobs.”


Climate Consequences

NASA climate scientist James Hanson has stated “the tar sands pipeline will be game over for our planet.”  Environmentalist Bill McKibben described Keystone as “a 1,700-mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent.”  The problem is the production of tar sands oil releases three times more carbon into the atmosphere than traditional oil. The consumption of tar sands oil will accelerate climate instability and offset gains from efficiency measures.  We are in no position to ramp up greenhouse gas emissions, especially when we  experiencing the warmest average global temperatures ever.   Our more frequent 100-year storms and balmy winter highlights how the weather is not quite right.  In December, the International Energy Agency warned the world is heading toward irreversible climate change and we need to take bold action in the next five years.


Environmental Impacts

The Sierra Club calls tar sands oil the most toxic fossil fuel on the planet.  Moving this hazardous material across the county puts farms, ranches, communities and aquifers at risk of oil spill contamination.  Sen. Ben Nelson summed up a major concern, “Upon crossing into Nebraska, the pipeline would run through the Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer which provides the drinking water for two million people and supports $20 billion in agriculture.”

environmental impacts of tar sands

Top: The Athabasca Delta is a critical migratory bird habitat at risk from toxic waste of tar sands mining upstream. Below: Syncrude tar sands open mine pit. Photos by David Dodge/The Pembina Institute.

In Canada, the oil industry is devastating hundreds of thousands of acres in Alberta’s pristine Boreal Forest to extract tar sands crude, by clear-cutting the ancient forest, strip mining the soil beneath it and leaving behind giant toxic lakes that are linked to cancer clusters in neighboring communities.  Boreal forests and wetlands provide critical habitat for caribou, wolves, grizzlies, 50 percent of North America’s migratory birds and other species.  Furthermore, deforestation accelerates global warming, since the forest serves as a carbon sink and keeps vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Inadequate Pipeline Safety Regulations
NRDC map showing existing and proposed oil pipelines

Notice the existing Enbridge oil pipelines going through Illinois. Map from NRDC.

An NRDC report shows that tar sands oil is more corrosive, more prone to spills and more difficult to clean up than conventional oil.  The consistency of tar sands (or DilBit) is similar to sandy peanut butter.  Moving this heavy, abrasive, corrosive mass requires high heat and pressure, which may weaken pipelines and lead to hazardous spills.  The existing Keystone pipeline already experienced 14 spills since June 2010 and a former Keystone inspector called it “a Deepwater Horizon disaster waiting to happen.”  The EPA is still cleaning up the July 2010 Kalamazoo River tar sands spill in Michigan over a year later.  Unfortunately, pipelines are still designed for conventional crude and no regulations specific to handling DilBit exist.  New rules are needed to adequately address corrosion, leak detection and spill response for tar sands oil.  Before rushing to approve extensive infrastructure across the nation, we need to make sure we are protecting farmland, wildlife habitat and critical water resources.  Also, keep in mind tar sands oil is already flowing to two Illinois refineries.


Intense Grassroots Opposition

Millions of Americans have voiced their disapproval of the Keystone pipeline from farmers and ranchers along KXL’s proposed route, scientists, public health officials, religious leaders, Native Nations, organized labor, elected officials and all major environmental groups. Thousands of people have voiced their opposition at public hearings.  In summer 2011, over 1,250 people were arrested in front of the White House opposing the pipeline.  As a follow up, over 12,000 people encircled the White House to stop the pipeline permit in November 2011 (to read about my first hand account, see December 2011 post SPEAK YOUR MIND) .


McKibben getting arrested at summer Keystone Pipeline protest

At the 11/6 DC rally, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams reminded us to “listen to people getting arrested” for civil disobedience. Photo credit: Shadia FayneWood



Flawed State Department Review 

Before issuing a permit, the State Department is responsible for reviewing the economic, environmental and safety impact of the pipeline and ensuring it is in America’s best interests. However, serious questions have been raised about the State Department’s objectivity.  In October 2011, members of Congress requested that the inspector general investigate possible abuses.  Concerns include the alleged conflict of interest for the consulting company Cardo Entrix that conducted the State’s environmental assessment.  Several drafts of the environmental impact statements have been criticized by the EPA, members of Congress and environmental groups for inadequately addressing pipeline safety, alternatives to the pipeline, alternative routes that would avoid the Ogallala aquifer, climate impacts and other issues.  Significant flaws in the review process need to be addressed before making a permit decision.



Undermining of  Clean Energy Future & Jobs

The Keystone pipeline deepens America’s dependence on pipelines and tar sands oil.  As NRDC states, we can keep America moving without the hazards of heavy crude.  We need sound policy and investment that encourages fuel efficiency in cars, trucks and planes, sustainably grown bio-fuels, electric vehicle infrastructure and smart growth.  Currently, the Obama administration plans to set a new average fuel-economy standard of 54.5 mpg for cars and trucks by 2030.  This can save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2030 – or more than twice the amount of oil the Keystone pipeline would deliver.  Consumer and environmental groups, as well as auto manufacturers and labor unions support these new standards.  Moving America beyond oil and toward greener transportation will fuel lasting and local jobs.  Nurturing the emerging clean energy industries will also help the U.S. stay competitive internationally.



Imagine what it takes to push heavy tar sands through a pipe.  This NRDC video summarizes why the Keystone pipeline is not in our country’s best interests.



Pushback & Forth…

Within a week of the November 2011 pipeline protest at the White House, the Obama Administration rejected the State Department’s environmental impact review and sent the entire project back for another year of analysis.  TransCanada responded by stating it would relocate the controversial pipeline route away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills area and Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska.  One month later, Congressional Republicans added a rider to the payroll tax cut forcing the President to make a final permit decision by February, 2012.  Shorty afterward, Obama denied the controversial project.  He stated the rejection was not based on the merits of the pipeline, but on the rushed and arbitrary deadline that prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact to protect Americans, especially when an alternate Nebraska route had not yet been identified.  Despite political attacks and an intense misinformation campaign, there is ample and compelling justification to stop Keystone XL on the merits.


The battle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline is NOT over.  Transcanada and Congressional Republicans are working hard to resurrect the failed pipeline proposal through overriding the Obama Administration in backdoor legislative attempts.  Just this week, Senate Republicans are trying to attach approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a transportation bill under debate.  Environmental groups are urging Senators not to approve the pipeline with an online grassroots campaign, over 780,000 e-mails within 24 hours were sent to the Senate  (***you can help too by visiting NoTarSands).  House Republicans are also working on a bill to revive the pipeline within 30 days.  Whatever the outcome, the Keystone pipeline will surely be a prominent wedge issue the 2012 election cycle.  The American Petroleum Institute warned Obama he would face “huge political consequences” if he didn’t approve the project.  So far, the oil lobby has put their money where their mouth is.  The 234 Congress members that voted “aye” to expedite the pipeline in December had accepted $42 million from the fossil fuel industry.  Despite Big Oil’s might, pipeline opponents are determined to fight on until Keystone is permanently nixed.




Thanks especially to Susan Casey-Levkowitz, from the NDRC Washington DC office, who closely follows this issue.


Shame on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for their cheeky comments and unwavering support of the pipeline. Really, KXL will lead to over 600,000 American jobs??? Agreed, energy and environmental matters are serious issues that “grains of truth and simplistic analysis” won’t help.