National Nurses United, a group numbering 185,000 registered nurses from across the United States, is among the forces opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry 880,000 barrels per day of viscous crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast. Numerous environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and others have spoken out against the pipeline for the harm it does to the planet that nurtures life. National Nurses United is front and center to the ramifications of relying on fossil fuels and says that Keystone XL will only exacerbate the forces that undermine public health.
“There is broad concern about the harmful health effects linked to both the extraction and transport of tar sands, as well as how the pipeline will accelerate the steadily worsening erosion of health we see every day as a result of climate change,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, in a January statement when the U.S. Department of State released its final environmental impact assessment. “Nurses will continue to oppose construction of this project, and call on President Obama to stand with our patients and our communities, not the big oil interests, to reject KXL.”
The group, formed in 2009 when three organizations—the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association—joined forces. On February 19 National Nurses United compiled a 10-point list of exactly why they think the pipeline, which is under review by President Barack Obama, should not be approved. Below is a summary of their points.
1. No Jobs on a Dead Planet
The nurses point out that all the promises of jobs come out to just 35 employed positions for operating the pipeline once construction is done.
“Infrastructure repair and promoting a green economy is a far better solution for the jobs crisis than a project that NASA scientist and climate expert James Hansen famously calls “game over” on the climate front,” the nurses point out.
2. Don’t Drink the Water
The viscous bitumen from the oil sands is more corrosive than conventional crude, making ingestion dangerous. Between spills and leaks of waste from tailings ponds, the potential for drinking-water contamination is enormous. The nurses cite links to heart and lung disease, asthma and cancer, among other ills.
RELATED: Keystone XL Equals Death
3. And Don’t Breathe the Air
From carbon residue to mercury, the fumes wafting off the tailings ponds at the Alberta oil sands are alarming to the health care professionals as well.
4. An Asthma Nation
Speaking of which, the nurses said, the current explosion of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, especially in children, can only be exacerbated by new levels of air pollution that will be generated by further development of the oil sands, which Keystone XL will indubitably contribute to.
5. The Gathering Storms
Citing the massive Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the fierce tornadoes in the U.S. Midwest and the droughts plaguing the western U.S., the nurses point out that all these things cause or contribute to health problems, many of them chronic. Again, it is Keystone XL’s connection to climate change that makes it relevant to these health issues.
6. The Carbon Bomb
“Despite naysayers who insist there is no environmental justification to block it, there is as much scientific consensus on Keystone as there is on the human hand behind the climate crisis, or the factual evidence of evolution,” the nurses say pointedly, noting in particular the objections of hundreds of scientists.
7. Not Headed to Your Gas Pump
The nurses group also notes that despite all the talk of energy independence and lower gas prices, the oil extracted and then shipped to the coast is destined for export, not for U.S. gas pumps.
8. Pipeline or Bust for the Tar Sands Industry
Although many pipeline supporters say that oil will simply be transported by rail if Keystone XL isn’t built, other analysts say that further oil sands development is contingent upon the pipeline’s approval, the nurses said. Rail transport has raised alarms because of recent accidents and explosions, as well as the revelation that bitumen from oil sands is more flammable than conventional crude.
9. Which Side Are You On?
The nurses say that the same groups and individuals that oppose unions and reforms to the health care system are the ones that support the Keystone XL pipeline. That includes the American Petroleum Institute, the oil billionaire Koch Brothers and other fossil-fuel proponents, they said. Against the project are “every major environmental group, farmers, ranchers and community leaders along the pipeline pathway, First Nations leaders, many clergy, most Canadian unions, and U.S. transit unions,” Nurses United said.
10. A Last Word, From Robert Redford
“The more people learn about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the less they like it,” said Nurses United, quoting the iconic movie actor and heartthrob turned activist and director. “Tar sands crude means a dirtier, more dangerous future for our children all so that the oil industry can reach the higher prices of overseas markets. This dirty energy project is all risk and no reward for the American people.”
Tar Sands Timmy couldn’t have said it better.
The full, more in-depth list is here, plus much more information about Nurses United and the group’s stance on the pipeline issue can be found at its Primer on Climate Change, Healthcare, and the Keystone XL Pipeline.