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National Greens Attracted to Shiny, Symbolic Fights

By Keith Kloor
Dec 20, 2011 11:50 PMNov 20, 2019 1:17 AM


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In the early 2000s, when the Bush Administration started formulating its domestic energy policy, they snookered U.S. environmental groups with a classic bait & switch. Bush & company made a lot of noise about opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which has long been a symbolic icon for green groups. Environmentalists promptly went into full battle mode over ANWR. They wrote articles, formed campaigns, poured their time and resources into ANWR's defense. The theatrics (Republicans: open ANWR! and Greens: Over our dead bodies!) continued throughout Bush's two terms, despite the fact that oil companies had no interest in the Refuge. Meanwhile, the real battle front was out West, in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah, where coalbed methane and gas drilling was skyrocketing, with marginal regulatory oversight and comparably little pushback from national green groups. In the early to mid-2000s, I crisscrossed some of those states, writing about threats to wildlife and archaeology from unrestrained gas drilling. (As a senior editor at Audubon magazine at the time, I also assigned related environmental stories.) Yes, the Western gas rush received plenty of local and regional news coverage, including from the terrific High Country News magazine. And big newspapers and magazines periodically parachuted into some of the hot spots. But Abraham Lustgarten at Pro Publica mostly had this story to himself, and man, did he own it. As for national green groups, they kept up their costly vigil to save ANWR all through the 2000s, while drill rigs continued to multiply in the West's fragile ecosystems, turning many thousands of acres of wildlife habitat into industrial zones. By 2008, one writer for High Country News had concluded that the Bush Administration's ANWR ploy was a "straw dog." I got to thinking of this recent history after reading Bryan Walsh's post on how the Keystone pipeline has become a symbolic, uniting issue for environmentalists today. He starts off:

Given that there are already more than 2.3 million miles of pipelines in the U.S."”carrying petroleum products, chemicals and natural gas"”it might seem odd that so much political energy has been expended on a proposed 1,700-mile pipeline. Yet the controversial Keystone XL pipeline"”which would cross the upper Midwest to carry crude from Canadian oil sands down to refiners in the U.S."”has become the single biggest environmental issue facing America.

Walsh goes on to analyze where the lines in the sand are being drawn (by the opposing sides) and how the battle might play out. To my eyes, it looks like the Keystone pipeline is the new ANWR for U.S. greens.

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