Pipelines Are Safe, Coal Is Strong, and Pigs Fly

A flying pig.
Photo by iStockphoto.com/Scott Green

In recent weeks, two of the fossil fuel industry’s favorite talking points were again shown to be magical thinking: Pipelines are safe and coal is coming back.

TC Energy officials assured the country that the original Keystone pipeline would be “the safest in the US.” It would only leak every seven to 11 years, they told the US government.

In the nine years it’s operated, it’s sprung 21 leaks, including one that produced a six-story geyser of crude. In late October, it started leaking again, pouring 383,000 gallons of sludgy tar sands oil into fragile North Dakota wetlands.

The spill was discovered as hearings were being held on the pipeline’s proposed extension, Keystone XL, which is also advertised as America’s safest pipeline. But the coalition of Indigenous people, farmers, landowners, and environmentalists who have spent years opposing KXL have never been fooled. Whatever TC Energy would like to pretend, Keystone XL is almost certain to leak some of the world’s dirtiest, most polluting fuels.

Robert “Bailout Bob” Murray, until recently the president and CEO of Murray Energy, loved to repeat the same old whoppers about coal and climate change, as journalist Emily Atkin points out. The coal industry is coming back. Global warming isn’t real — the earth has actually been cooling for the past 19 years. Renewable energy will leave America’s grandmothers “cold and in the dark.” (Check out Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt’s blog post on how the coal industry uses that last point to get bailouts at public expense).

Bailout Bob’s shtick had a head-on collision with reality, and it wasn’t pretty. Murray Energy, the country’s largest underground mining corporation, just became the eighth coal company to declare bankruptcy this year, and the 11th since President Trump took office. Coal consumption hasn’t been this low since Jimmy Carter was president. It’s being replaced, in large part, by inexpensive clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.

In fact, Murray knew that his boasts about coal’s bright future were actually lies. At a 2014 industry conference, he admitted that the domestic market for coal wasn’t coming back. According to him, anyone who said differently was ignorant of industry realities or “smoking dope.”

There’s another lie that Murray and other fossil fuel industry folks like to spread: that environmentalists don’t care about the human costs of the transition beyond coal. But anyone would be outraged by the fact that former mine workers are likely to lose their jobs and their pensions — “liabilities,” as they’re called in bankruptcy court.

These workers have given years of their lives — and all too often, sacrificed their health — to power this country and support their families and communities. We’re committed to supporting them in turn. That’s why when we worked to replace coal plants in Kentucky, Washington, Michigan and so many other places with clean energy, we also worked to successfully secure economic development funds for the affected workers and communities. And that’s why we’re helping to grow a clean energy economy that offers family-sustaining wages for all workers.

Why does it matter when we catch the fossil fuel industry in their lies? Because we know they’ll lie to us again in new and more sophisticated ways. Only now, after decades of climate denial, have they begun to acknowledge that yes, climate change is happening.

They’ve moved on to aggressively advertising inconsequential investments in renewables and carbon capture, without taking the action necessary to prevent catastrophic warming: cutting production by an average of 35% by 2040.

It’s because they’re scared that the public understands that we can have a future beyond dirty fuels, a future that includes good jobs and a healthy planet for all.

It’s the truth. Believe it.

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