The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission is beginning its second go-round on the Keystone XL permit this week. The years-long delay in getting the pipeline built and buried under environmentally sensitive and economically vital land– and over the most important freshwater aquifer in the  U.S.– made the previous permit lapse. So now TransCanada will have to persuade the PUC to give them the authority to put South Dakotans’ property at risk for foreign corporations’ profit.

As you might imagine, this is quite a controversial subject. Many South Dakotans don’t want their land threatened by toxic pollution  for the benefit of foreign corporations. Some of them are so bothered by the idea that they want to address the PUC and tell them just how little they want their land rendered a “sacrifice zone” for foreign corporate profit. And the PUC has to listen.

But the commission doesn’t have to listen to everyone who wants to tell them what a truly rotten idea this whole Keystone XL thing is. In fact, the PUC gets to decide that some people, no matter how well qualified they are to speak on the risks and rewards of KXL, don’t have a right to be heard at all.

One such persona non grata is NASA’s former head climatologist, James Hansen.

If that name rings a bell, it’s probably because Hansen is probably the most famous climatologist in the world. He is most famous for one phrase in particular:


That’s how he described what would happen to our climate if Keystone XL is built. By enabling faster and more effective exploitation of the tar sands and all of the carbon buried within them, Hansen reasoned, KXL would make the consequences of catastrophic climate change unavoidable. With sea levels and polar ice caps already in flux, he has not backed down from that claim.

While conservatives and corporatists try to paint Hansen as an “alarmist” whose opinion should be disregarded, the rest of the climate science world is backing up his position.

Huge proportions of known fossil-fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to prevent the environmental calamity Hansen predicts, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature. The World Bank, which monitors all manner of issues with global economic impact, says it’s already too late to stop global warming from reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius increase– two degrees is thought to be the tipping point where society as we know it is under existential threat. Meanwhile,  air pollution and climate change could lead to global famine.

It seems far from being an alarmist, Dr. Hansen is actually quite measured in his assertions. And science backs him up.

The South Dakota PUC won’t hear of it, though, in any event. Dr. Hansen’s words of wisdom and warning are not welcome in Pierre. But the PUC’s reluctance to hear them doesn’t make Hansen’s words any less accurate. It only renders the PUC’s ultimate decision based on incomplete data.

Willful ignorance seems like a very bad way to make public policy.


Julie Dermansky at DeSmogBlog, of whom I’m a big fan, has a great article on tthe facts about its pipeline safety record that TransCanada is trying to hide. I highly recommend it.