The potential environmental effects of Keystone XL keep racking up, and none of them look good. We’re already looking at leaks, potential damage to lakes and rivers, problems for plants and animals, and a host of other issues — no wonder people right and left are opposing it! But one such problem strikes particularly close to the bone: endangered Northern Swift Foxes could be crushed in their dens along with their cubs as a result of pipeline construction.
They’re actually not the only endangered animals threatened by the pipeline, but Sarah Laskow at Grist notes that they are probably the cutest, and there’s something very chilling about the thought of baby animals being ruthlessly eliminated to make way for oil. Considering the fact that they’re endangered, the situation also leaves you wondering how this is even legal, as endangered species are theoretically supposed to be protected, along with the habitats they rely upon.
The Center for Biological Diversity has released a detailed study on the potential problems with Keystone XL, noting that power lines strung for construction, digging and heavy equipment could all pose threats to endangered or fragile wildlife and habitats. The Great Plains is a biologically unique, distinctive and beautiful region with some very special plant and animal species, making pipeline-related damage a serious potential concern. As with endangered areas and animals the world over, once they’re gone, they’re gone, with no possibility of replacement.
Within the report, the CBD charges that the State Department failed to fully ascertain and disclose the potential environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline and construction, understating the environmental issues. In a country desperate for oil, this perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, because a full discussion of these issues might have slowed or even halted progress on the project until they could be resolved. If the allegations are true, the State Department could be in serious hot water, and so could Keystone XL:
Under the Endangered Species Act, the State Department must ensure the Keystone XL pipeline does not jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species; it must disclose and mitigate any harm to endangered species before giving approval. To meet these requirements the State Department produced a biological assessment that purported to analyze impacts to all endangered species, but concluded that only the American burying beetle would be adversely affected by the pipeline.
By not fully disclosing, the State Department sidestepped the mitigation issue, eliminating the need for potentially costly habitat restoration, rerouting or cancellation of the project altogether. It also sowed some serious doubts in terms of its own reliability as a source and authority — if the CBD can uncover such as sea of problems, what else might be lurking beneath piles of Keystone XL paperwork in Washington? And incidentally, that report? It was written by a TransCanada hire, which doesn’t make it the most reliable of sources to begin with.
The thought of crushing animals alive, let alone adorable endangered species, is a troubling one indeed: no wonder the State Department wanted to keep this one under the rug.
Photo credit: jans canon.