Reform Jewish Leader Urges Areas of Study on Keystone XL Pipeline

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 7, 2014 — As President Obama deliberates over approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, sent the following letter to the White House, urging several key areas for consideration: 

Dear President Obama,

On behalf of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint body of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews across North America and its affiliates as well as the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis, I write regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and its long-term effects on the environment.

Jewish laws and values emphasize the importance of protecting Creation and maintaining good stewardship of the Earth. In one of our ancient texts, God implores, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent. Do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody to replace it after you” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah). These words and the spirit of the message they convey continue to guide us today, inspiring our concern for sustainable, renewable energy policies that combat climate change.

We recognize the difficult decision before you concerning the pipeline’s approval, now pending while the case makes its way through the Nebraska courts. More than two years ago, our Commission called for a comprehensive review of the pipeline’s environmental impact. We did so with an interest in ensuring the range of environmental, economic, national security and other factors involved are fully considered. For that reason, we appreciate the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released earlier this year. While we take no position on approval of the pipeline, we do urge you to further consider several issues in greater depth and with the most accurate information available, before reaching a final decision on the pipeline.

  • As you know, the Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that the processing and production of the tar sands would result in roughly 17% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. At the same time, other analyses have determined that this calculation alone potentially underestimates the pipeline’s true impact, because the rate of tar sands oil extraction will likely increase. Determining with the greatest possible accuracy the projected impact of the pipeline on GHG emissions is vital to understanding its benefits and costs.
  • The Environmental Impact Statement does not provide an analysis of the pipeline’s impact on human health. Yet a 2012 study published by the National Academy of Sciences found high levels of toxic pollutants linked to increased incidences of asthma and cancer among people living in areas near tar sands strip-mining, drilling and processing operations. A full exploration of the pipeline’s impact on human health is essential prior to making a final decision.
  • Ensuring our nation’s energy independence is an issue of significance for us, as we know it is for you. While the pipeline may move the nation in that direction, the State Department report indicates that U.S. refineries are a competitive source of refined products to emerging economies in Latin America and Africa. We urge you to consider what more can be done around oil use reduction measures, like your groundbreaking fuel efficiency standards, to increase energy independence and security.
  • Finally, we also urge you to consider the impact of possible pipeline spills and leaks and to put in place in advance effective and comprehensive plans to address any such incidents that occur.

We know that you share our concerns about the effect of our energy choices on the environment, national security and the economy. In particular, we appreciate the many steps you have taken to address the impact of climate change, including the “Climate Action Plan” targeting power plants and preparing our nation for the effects of future extreme weather events, and new fuel efficiency standards. As Americans and Reform Jews, we urge that as you move toward a decision, you continue to keep in mind the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline on this and future generations. Just as the book of Deuteronomy tells us that Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden “to till and to tend” it, so must we care for the earth with which we are entrusted by our children and children’s children.

Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman
Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism