Hundreds of UT students and members of the community protested for quality environmental conditions Wednesday evening at the LBJ Library, hoping to influence the U.S. State Department to look into greener solutions to replace the proposed Keystone Oil Pipeline.
The pipeline, proposed by energy company TransCanada, would run from Alberta, Canada, to the Nederland and Port Arthur area. TransCanada estimates the pipeline will contribute more than $20 million to the economy and create more than 20,000 new jobs across the U.S., according to company’s website. Protesters against the pipeline have raised concerns about its impact on air quality and on the state’s natural aquifers.
The State Department held a hearing at the LBJ Auditorium to gauge public reactions to the proposed pipeline. Throughout the day, the State Department hosted more than 650 people and heard an estimated 250 public testimonies.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he plans to meet with the State Department later this week.
“Although the pipeline does not come through the city of Austin, I have serious concerns about the project,” Leffingwell said.
The UT Sierra Student Coalition, an organization that focuses on environmental policy in the political sphere, organized a march to the LBJ Auditorium in the effort to inform students about the controversial issue. Sierra Coalition President Brittany Morgan said it was inspiring to see students coming together to fight for a cause larger than the mselves.
“Given that we are at a turning point in how we get our energy, it is important that we not take a giant step backwards by building this risky and dangerous tar sands pipeline,” Morgan said.
Jacqueline Ho-Shing, UT-Pan American psychology junior, spent most of her childhood surrounded by the oil refineries in El Paso and Houston. Ho-Shing travelled to Port Arthur on Monday, the site of the proposed Keystone Oil Pipeline, and said she was struck by the familiar smell of oil.
“[Port Arthur] was kind of majestic because of the oil refineries,” said Ho-Shing. “This was ironic because [it’s the] pretty oil refineries that [are] doing such harm.”
Ho-Shing was one of about 150 people protesting the construction of the Keystone Oil Pipeline project and said her main concerns were the health and environmental impacts of the project on the Houston area. She said she suspected her brother’s asthma developed from growing up around the oil refineries of El Paso.
“If they continue with this, it’ll eventually get down to [McAllen]. I want my grandchildren to have a healthy future,” Ho-Shing said.
Student Government passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting student involvement in the pipeline debate because of the number of UT students living in East Texas that would be directly affected. The resolution also called for the State Department to analyze the impacts and risks the pipeline on Texas lands and communities in drought conditions.
Liberal arts Student Government representative John Lawler supported the legislation and said SG received a lot of support from students for the legislation.
“This would create jobs but a majority of them are dirty construction jobs,” Lawler said. “We need to look into becoming an innovative technology [state] and stop producing oil for other people.”
Reno Hammond, representative of the Southwest Laborers’ District Council, said about 75 members of the SWLDC had come out in support of the pipeline because it would create new jobs for many people in the economy. The Southwest Council is an organization of more than 500,000 members who work at oil pipelines, chemical plants, demolition and industrial and professional plants.
Hammond said many of the speakers of the day had a misconstrued view over the pipeline debate and oil refineries. Hammond said many of the public testimonies inaccurately made references to oil spills that are really leaks. He added SWLDC members take care of those leaks and maintain them to make sure they are secure.
“We respect the environment,” Hammond said. “We need jobs. This pipeline has been delayed too long, and every day we wait, it’s a house or insurance payment that needs to be made.”