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South Dakota PUC Trading Health for Potential Tar Sands Profits

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On July 27, 2015 the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) began the hearing for docket HP14-001 in which TransCanada has applied for recertification of the permit for the KXL route across South Dakota. TransCanada must certify to the PUC that the Keystone XL Pipeline continues to meet the conditions upon which the permit was issued in February 2010. The PUC will state that they are simply "following the law" when it comes to determining whether or not the TransCanada Pipeline permit should be re-certified.

LAKOTA NATION EXCLUDED FROM PUBLIC SAFETY HEARINGS


(Image by Courtesy of Winona LaDuke and Michael Horse)   Permission   Details   DMCA

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To date the PUC has largely excluded many who have voiced opposition to the KXL Pipeline, including the Lakota Nations whose territory is involved. What law will the PUC decide to follow? The Clean Water Act? The 1868 Treaty? The US government, in order to push the Lakota to the West and to establish the Black Hills Reservation within the Dakota Territory, initiated the 1868 Treaty. Will the PUC follow the

Cheney Loophole, which has allowed corporations to contaminate our drinking waters, thereby placing profit over public health and public safety? Which law will it be? Should the PUC follow the higher order of law--the right to drinking clean water by communities regardless of race, income, or location? Will the PUC members stand up for the moral imperative to ensure that no harm is done on their watch as elected officials and leaders? When arguing to exclude the Oglala Sioux Tribe's statements at the PUC hearing regarding KXL crossing the Mni Wiconi water pipeline, TransCanada lawyers stated that the PUC has no authority to follow such laws, and that the PUC is merely a "quasi-judicial agency".

ABDICATING MORAL AUTHORITY

The states we live in have abdicated their moral authority to ensure public safety and trust by holding monetary profits at higher value than the communities' health. How else can we explain the willingness to determine a cost benefit analysis of the TransCanada Pipeline in terms of the short-term benefits to the counties on the proposed pipeline path? Why include tax benefits, a few short-term construction jobs, and NOT include the real risk of a tar sands diluted Bitumen (aka Dilbit) spill into the precious Missouri River and Ogallala Aquifer? The public health and safety costs of such a spill would be monumental -- and this does not include the unknown long-term health costs, magnified by 20-50 years. Toxic hydrocarbons and chemicals are largely unknown and "proprietary" thanks to the previously mentioned Cheney Loophole. These "proprietary" chemicals have been implicated by scientists as possible contributors to the development of neuroendocrine disorders and to disruption of the reproductive system in some phases of development, such as hypospadias. The components of tar sands Dilbit that are known, such as benzene, are carcinogens. Other chemicals, such as detergents, diluents, and possibly radioactive heavy metals are added to the bitumen, a thick tar like substance, in order to help it flow in the pipelines. "Light crude oil" and natural gas are added to the final mix. Sounds like a pipeline rupture waiting to happen, doesn't it?

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"Those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it." Think about Minamata Disease. What is Minamata Disease? Well, in fact, it is not a disease -- it was a mass public poisoning in Japan by the Chisso Company, which was manufacturing chemicals and dumping a byproduct, methylmercury wastewater, into the bay and ocean from 1932 to 1968. Mercury gradually accumulated in the shellfish and fish, and people in the nearby town ate the shellfish and fish. Eventually, the mercury poisoned the people, their unborn children (via trans placental transmission), and wildlife. Doctors and people spoke out. Initially community members were silenced in order for the company to continue profits. Over 10,000 people were ultimately compensated, yet no large-scale public health study was done. To date, the company has paid out up to $203 million to victims of the poisoning, fisherman, and the local communities (this is a low estimate not including cleanup costs).

Why do I make this comparison? As a physician, a mother, and a potential grandmother -- I am concerned about the water my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will drink and are drinking. What quality of water will the fish, birds, and animals drink? How will the gradual accumulation of hydrocarbons, benzene, sulfide, diluents, and radioactive metals affect our children and their children? WE DO NOT FULLY KNOW! How can we estimate the long-term health costs related to the inevitable spill? We must plan for the worst-case scenario. That is what we as community leaders, public utility commission members, physicians, parents, and grandparents must do -- plan for the worst-case scenario.

THE COST OF DOING NOTHING

What is the worst-case scenario? In the past ten years, we have seen it repeatedly. We saw it for 87 days during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill, which pumped 3 billion gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Costs of clean up and fines for BP will total $54 billion dollars. Yet the true costs are immeasurable in the 11 lives lost. We saw the worst case scenario again 5 years ago, on July 26, 2010, when Enbridge's 30 inch pipeline ruptured and more than 1.5 million gallons of dilbit poured into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Ultimately the costs of the clean-up and remediation of the Kalamazoo River have been estimated at more than $1 billion dollars. We could go on and on with examples, including the oil spill into the Yellowstone River, the Mayflower, the Green River, and the 2013 spill of the Tesoro pipeline near Tioga, ND. In Tioga, 650,000 gallons of oil spilled, destroyed farmland, and the cleanup continues. The tar sands dilbit spill last week in Alberta of 1.3 million gallons, involved a new pipeline with the newest monitoring technology. Yet the Alberta Nexen pipeline was leaking for an undetermined amount of time prior to being incidentally discovered.

With spills almost inevitable, and the effects of some of the known chemicals and unknown chemicals within the tar sands dillbit likely to be detrimental to the long term health of the community, why would we allow such risk in our communities?

The toxic mix that helps the tar sands dilbit flow through pipelines contains bitumen oil and diluents, benzene, toluene, and micro-polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Once these PAHs are spilled, they turn into gasses in the surrounding area, causing symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, coughing, and fatigue in people and wildlife. PAHs are health hazards and cause respiratory issues such as asthma; they also cause cancer, and hormone and reproductive problems by disrupting neuroendocrine transmitters and interfering with DNA functions. Similar chemicals are used by oil companies as diluents to help bitumen flow through pipelines, as fracking fluids to flush oil and natural gas out of cracks in shale, and as dispersants for oil slicks. The chemical illnesses reported by survivors of exposures to tar sands dilbit spills, oil spills with added dispersants, fracking fluid, or solvents are similar because the chemical toxins and poisonings are similar. When will more of our public health colleagues speak up?

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The TransCanada Pipeline will cross the Missouri River, the Yellowstone River, the Oglalla Aquifer, and the Platte River. A tar sands Pipeline spill into the Missouri River or the Yellowstone River, both of which feed into Lake Sakakawea would affect the drinking water of many people and Nations. Numerous cities and Nations derive their drinking water from these bodies of water, including the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, the cities of Bismarck and Mandan in ND, Standing Rock Lakota/Dakota Nation, the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation, the Crow Creek Lakota Nation, and Pierre (SD).

The Mni Wiconi Water pipeline is a water pipeline specifically built to pipe drinking water from the Missouri River to the Rosebud Sicangu Lakota Nation (Rosebud Reservation), Lower Brule Lakota Nation, and the Oglala Lakota Nation (Pine Ridge Reservation). The proposed TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline will cross the Mni Wiconi pipelines at least twice, thus putting vulnerable health populations at even more risk. This risky scenario must include the fact that if the Missouri River itself becomes contaminated with the heavy tar sands dilbit which tends to sink to the river bottom and become difficult to find and remove, it would continue to leak contaminants for years. The chemicals would then continue to be gradually released and contaminate any drinking water being drawn from the Missouri River. The proposed TransCanada XL Pipeline also crosses many of the West River/Lyman-Jones drinking water lines in South Dakota as well.

PREVENTABLE MASS POISONINGS

We, as the public, health care providers, public health officials, and elected officials (including the PUC) must address these public health dangers as what they are, preventable mass poisonings. Politicians and fossil fuel CEOs are allowed to make cost benefit analyses and calculate the risks based on civilians as possible collateral damage wherein our drinking water, air, and the ground from which we grow our food become gradually more and more toxic. These are NOT "accidents" -- our communities are subjected to a gamble for profit, and we are the losers. We must insist that those we elect and grass roots people are involved in assessing the true long term public health costs of the spilling of tar sands dilbit, oil, diluents, and solvents into our aquifers and rivers. It is not worth the gamble. Will we end up with our own syndromes and toxidromes named after our own towns and cities?

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Sara Jumping Eagle, MD is a wife and mother of 3. She is Oglala Lakota and Mdewakantonwan Dakota. Dr. Jumping Eagle is a Pediatrician is originally from Kyle, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She is a landowner on the Cheyenne River (more...)
 

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South Dakota PUC Trading Health for Potential Tar Sands Profits