HRC, Political Purity and Over Reactions to Perceived Slights

I’m not exactly a huge fan of HRC.  Mostly our relationship consists of them sending me begging letters with blue and gold equal sign stickers, a symbol innocuous enough to be out mainly to those of us in the know.

I keep the stickers and throw away the rest of the mailing.  I’m old and on a limited budget.

HRC doesn’t really speak to me or for me because I’m not of their particular social class.  I don’t fit into the L/G elite marketing demographic.  I’m not going to have an expensive wedding when marriage equality becomes a reality.  We already had a ceremony witnessed by members the Dallas LGBT community and Occupy.  We wore jeans or maybe shorts.

W don’t vacation in P-town or take winter holiday ski trips.

I generally feel about HRC the same way I feel about Obama and the Democratic Party.  I support them because what’s the alternative?  I’m regularly disappointed by both and I’m a cheerleader for neither.  Why should I go rah-rah because they make a half-assed attempt to do the right thing?

That said I’ve got much better targets to throw stones at.  Much better things to do with my time than attack people who are for better or worse on the same team I’m on.

Like GLAAD they help fund lawyers that advance the rights of all LGBT people.

Unlike many TS/TG folks I sort of understand why they didn’t want a bunch of other flags and issues raised at this rally.  L/G folks have been working towards this moment since 1949 and the founding of the Mattachine Society.

There is a reason to only want American flags on the platform, one that has to do with depriving the enemy of a photo opportunity in which they can question our patriotism.

It’s a lesson learned from the immigrant’s rights marches where the right wing made this huge deal out of the number of Mexican flags on display and spun it into saying the march was about the reconquestia.

I realize many TS/TG people think marriage equality isn’t all that important.  But I’ve also noticed that many have marriages entered into prior to transition, using paper tricks after SRS or marriages that are legal due to SRS.

Others are young and don’t see marriage with the same sense of urgency that many of us who came out in the days of Stonewall do.

In any case I find attacking HRC to be counter productive at best.  Sort of like Ashley Love’s Quixotic attacks on GLAAD.

I find many of the issues being raised by TS/TG folks regarding work and immigrant rights actually transcend the LGBT movement and should be reason to be involved in unionization as well as other organizations working for workers rights. The same is true for other organizations.

I’ve always been involved in issues besides LGBT issues rather than demanding LGBT groups take up these other causes I’ve tended to insist TS/Tg people have a role in these other organizations.

The big failure of identity politics has been that so few of us are mono-issue people.  Rather than demand all things from a single organization perhaps it would be better to become multi-issue individuals.

I have a feeling that if we are involved in other causes besides LGBT specific causes we might be less fault finding when a specific organization doesn’t represent us on a specific issue.

Moving Past Détente Between The HRC And The Trans Community

From Pam’s House Blend:

Also Huffington Post:

Monday April 1, 2013

Reposted with permission.

On the day the constitutionality of Prop 8 was being argued before the the Supreme Court, a rally organized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Family Equality Council, GetEQUAL, Marriage Equality USA, and the New Organizing Institute was underway. The rally was almost in every way successful in how the event demonstrated unanimity of LGBT community organizations and members standing behind marriage equality.


There was an incident involving a trans person standing near the rally’s podium because the trans person was holding a transgender pride flag. An HRC staffer was reported to have asked the trans person three times to move away from the podium: the HRC representative reportedly told the trans person that the rally organizers wanted only American flags on or near the podium. The trans person was allegedly told by the staffer that marriage equality wasn’t a trans issue.

The next day the incident went viral on social media as the HRC having again shown distain for trans people and community. The HRC then put out a statement regarding the incident which included this paragraph:

“It is a not true to suggest that any person or organization was told their flag was less important than another – this did not occur and no HRC staff member would ever tolerate such behavior. To be clear, it is the position of the Human Rights Campaign that marriage is an issue that affects everyone in the LGBT community.”

Jerame Davis summed up the details of the incident well in the Bilerico piece “My View: HRC & the Trans Flag Incident” from a knowledgeable position than I can, so I’ll defer to his summary of the incident. Davis, however, believed the statement from the HRC was incredulous in its assertations.

And, Dana Beyer in my mind hits the nail on the head in her Huffington Post, Gay Voices piece “Time for a Rapprochement Between the Trans Community and HRC” when she says “What continues to be a problem is the cold war that is ongoing between the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the trans community.” Returning to the détente that had been in place prior to this incident seems untenable in the long term considering that the HRC considers itself an LGBT civil rights organization.

One long term problem for the “superpower” HRC is that the organization has a horrible reputation with the trans subcommunity of the LGBT community. In 2007, three years after the HRC publicly stated that it wouldn’t support any form of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that did not include antidiscrimination protections for gender identity, later supported a version of ENDA that did not include those antidiscrimination protections. There are other incidents that feed into the “HRC is not trans friendly” narrative, but the ENDA narrative alone is for many in community to be enough of an incident to not trust the organization.

One visible aspect of that problem is that the organization doesn’t have good optics on trans people and issues. They have the right rhetoric for most part on trans people and issues, but it appears to many that their rhetoric isn’t reflected in their staffing, and it’s not reflected in how the HRC allocates their significant resources.

Dana Beyer suggested in her piece that the HRC could actively seek to hold meetings with trans community members for input on how to end the cold war. So with a variant on that idea in mind, here are some ideas I’d like to publicly submit that could be discussed in those meetings as ways they could move past détente.


  1. Hire more transgender staffers. The HRC and the HRC Foundation together have well over 100 staffers, but since Allyson Robinson left to become the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, the organization now has zero trans staffers. The HRC needs some trans specific affirmative action. Specifically, the organization could hire a trans staffer for their policy setting department to make sure there is always trusted trans input available for their policy decisions. Additionally, the organization could hire a field organizer that specifically could be dispatched for trans specific legislation. (Their current regional field organizers, I’ve been told by some in the know, aren’t experts on trans legislation and are utilized mostly for field organizing related to marriage equality legislation, initiatives, and referendums.) Lastly, they could add trans people to their department management to demonstrate to the LGBT and business communities that there are transgender people can be eminently capable leaders.
  2. Update their healthcare policy to include all transition surgeries. Currently, San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon, Multnomah County, Oregon, and a number of Fortune 500 companies have publically more progressive healthcare policies for transitioning trans staffers than the HRC does.
  3. Devote more resources to transgender issues. Significantly more HRC resources are devoted to marriage equality than basic civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and since basic civil rights protections based on gender identity are the number one issue for most trans community members, devoting more resources would sent a strong message to trans community members.

The HRC can do more than they have to build credibility among trans people, as well as to trans intra- and extra-community allies, so incidents such as this one regarding the transgender pride flag incident doesn’t resonate as negatively in the way this incident did.

The question in my mind is whether that credibility that the HRC currently doesn’t have on trans people and issues is important enough to the organization that they take decisive action.

In my mind, the organization needs to take action to improve their reputation — not only with the trans subcommunity of the LGBT community, but with the broader LGBT community and its allies that care deeply about full equality for all in LGBT community. It seems the best way to move past the détente — détente that leaves the cold war between the HRC and the trans subcommunity of the LGBT community subject to again turning into as hot a war as it was back in 2007 — is for the HRC to embrace a different way of doing business.

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Rick Santorum Says: Gays Wouldn’t Want to Marry Each Other If It Weren’t for “Will and Grace.”

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HRC Apologizes For Events At Supreme Court Marriage Rally

From The New Civil Rights Movement:

by David Badash
on April 1, 2013

HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, just issued a statement apologizing for two events that HRC staffers caused. HRC was part of a wider coalition, United For Marriage, which successfully held several rallies at the Supreme Court last week during the SCOTUS hearings on same-sex marriage, DOMA, and Prop 8.

 “In the midst of a tremendously historic week for our community, two unfortunate incidents at the United for Marriage event at the Supreme Court last week have caused pain in the community,” HRC’s Fred Sainz, Vice President, Communications and Marketing, says in the HRC statement:

In one case, a trans activist was asked to remove the trans pride flag from behind the podium, and in another, a queer undocumented speaker was asked to remove reference to his immigration status in his remarks.

HRC joined in a coalition statement on Friday apologizing for these incidents and the individuals involved have personally offered their apologies to those affected. But to be perfectly clear, HRC regrets the incidents and offers our apologies to those who were hurt by our actions. We failed to live up to the high standard to which we hold ourselves accountable and we will strive to do better in the future. Through both our legislative and programmatic work, HRC remains committed to making transgender equality a reality.

Last week, it appeared HRC had signed on to the coalition’s apology, but then denied any wrong doing in a separate statement.

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Even After All These Years, HRC Still Doesn’t Get It

From Huffington Post:


The ongoing war between the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the trans community is not only longstanding but quite damaging for both sides. And yes, before you ask, it most certainly is fair to call it a war, albeit a war that’s being fought with press releases, money, media access and political influence rather than bombs and bullets.

The vast majority of today’s LGBT activists and allies are supportive of an LGBT civil rights agenda that not only includes but actually works to support the interests of all LGBT people and doesn’t focus almost all its resources exclusively on a single issue that directly affects only a comparatively small minority (those who already are or wish to become married) but on issues of key importance to a far greater number of LGBT Americans, such as basic civil rights protections in employment, housing and access to public spaces.

Increasingly, these activists, particularly those who are younger and have come into activism through more modern and forward-thinking organizations, consider trans support, inclusion and issues unquestionably intrinsic parts of the agenda that they want to pursue. As recently as just a decade ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of progressive civil rights organizations that considered trans inclusion and our rights important and something that they supported as a part of their larger mission, even if not a direct focus, but now it’s much harder to find those that don’t.

Despite all the changes in the public perception and inclusion of trans people, not only in the progressive and LGBT activist communities but in modern American culture, one organization seems intent on steadfastly resisting any evolution in their agenda or the way they do things, no matter how strongly the winds of change are blowing in the opposite direction. That organization is HRC.

This war started long before my time, but I’ve played some small part in it in terms of the media surrounding it. In 2004 I broke the story of HRC publicly claiming to be supportive of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) while a staffer for then-Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) told trans lobbyists that trans inclusion in ENDA would be much easier to achieve if HRC were onboard with it. The important point here is that HRC was telling one story publicly while those who were actual witnesses to what was happening at ground level were telling a very different one.

In 2007 HRC stood virtually alone among LGBT civil rights organizations in refusing to oppose a non-inclusive version of ENDA, even though it was well-known at the time that President Bush intended to veto the bill if it ever made it to his desk.

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Medicare Won’t Yet Decide Whether to Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery

From The Advocate:

After saying it would seek comments on a potential policy change, the Department of Health and Human Services rescinded its call for public input on Medicare’s long-standing ban on coverage for gender reassignment surgeries.

BY Sunnivie Brydum
April 01 2013

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department reversed course Friday night after saying earlier that day that it would consider revising Medicare policy to cover medically necessary gender transition surgeries.

Friday morning the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the government’s national insurance program, published an announcement on its website that it would be seeking public input on its reconsideration whether or not to cover gender reassignment surgery for people on Medicare, as The Advocate reported.

But later that same day, HHS issued a contradictory statement, and the center withdrew its request for comment on the potential policy change.

The confusion arose from an administrative challenge to Medicare’s 30-year-old statutory refusal to provide medically necessary health care to transgender patients. Both Medicare and Medicaid currently prohibit all forms of gender reassignment surgery, regardless of the individual patient’s diagnosis or serious medical needs.

“An administrative challenge to our 1981 Medicare national coverage determination concerning sex reassignment surgery was just filed,” an HHS spokesperson told The Hill Friday. “This administrative challenge is being considered and working its way through the proper administrative channels. In light of the challenge, we are no longer re-opening the national coverage determination for reconsideration.”

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Transgender Rights: Coming to a School Near You?

From Time Magazine:

By April 01, 2013

Grant High School in Portland, Oregon has just done something to put itself in the forefront of one of the major civil rights issues of our time. It created six unisex bathrooms. The reason: it wanted to accommodate transgender students who do not feel comfortable in the boys’ and girls’ rooms, including 17-year-old Scott Morrison (who was born male but identifies as female), who said he avoided drinking water in school because using the restroom was so stressful.

As gay rights, including same-sex marriage, become increasingly accepted, the civil rights frontline is shifting to transgender people, and increasingly to transgender students. More transgender young people are asking their schools to accommodate their gender identity – and increasingly they have state or local non-discrimination law on their side.

(MOREBathroom Battle: States Grapple With Transgender Rights)

The issue of transgender student rights made national headlines recently with the case of Coy Mathis, a six-year old who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. Her parents filed a discrimination complaint against a Colorado school district that refuses to allow Coy to use the girl’s bathroom. Coy’s age added an extra dimension to the discussion of transgender rights — even some people who support them are not sure if decisions about gender identity should be made so young. But disputes over transgender rights for young people are showing up with increasing frequency.

Connecticut high school senior Calliope Wong entered the fray recently when she protested that Smith College, the prominent Massachusetts all-women’s college, twice returned her application without reading it. Wong, who was born male but identifies as female, submitted a high school transcript and recommendation letters identifying her as female, but she told Reuters that her federal student aide documents list her as male. Wong’s supporters have taken to social media, creating a Facebook group “Trans women belong at Smith College” and a Tumblr page.

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CDC Targets Anti-Smoking Efforts At LGBT Community: ‘This Is A Justice And Equity Issue’

From Think Progress

By Tara Culp-Ressler
on Apr 1, 2013

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just rolled out a new anti-smoking campaign highlighting the negative effects of tobacco-related illnesses. The agency wants to emphasize all of the ways that smoking can indirectly impact a wider circle of people, like smokers’ loved ones or people breathing in secondhand smoke in public places. CDC officials also hope to influence a demographic they are particularly concerned about reaching: the LGBT community.

Dr. Tim McAfee, the director of the CDC’s Office on Smoke and Health, told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that curbing smoking rates among LGBT individuals is a major priority for the agency. Since the smoking rate is 70 percent higher in the LGBT community than it is for heterosexual Americans, McAfee pointed out that it represents a “big, big health burden” in the nation — and effectively addressing it is a matter of “health justice and equity”:

“We need to pull back the curtain on this issue,” McAfee said, stressing that HIV-positive people can expect a long lifetime if they take their medicine, exercise and avoid smoking. “Smoking itself is bad,” he added. “But when you mix in HIV, it’s … like adding kerosene to a fire.”

He blasted the tobacco industry for targeting LGBT people, particularly the youth, and contributing to the rise in smoking in the gay community.

“This is a health justice and equity issue,” McAfee said. “We at the CDC are committed to this cause.”

McAfee is referring to the fact that recent studies have suggested that smoking now poses a bigger threat to HIV-positive Americans than the virus itself does. More than 60 percent of deaths among HIV patients are associated with tobacco-related illnesses, compared with about 25 percent that are associated with complications from HIV.

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Feminism ‘has failed working-class women’

From The Guardian UK

New research reveals that advances for women at the top have not been matched by progress for those at the bottom

Press Association, Sunday 31 March 2013

Feminism has failed working-class women by focusing too much on gender equality in high-profile roles, according to new research.

While the average gap between the earnings of men and women has narrowed in the last 50 years, differences between professional and unskilled women are significantly higher than those between the same groups of men, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has found.

With or without a university degree, men continue to earn more than their female counterparts. But researchers found that women with a degree born in 1958 earned nearly three times as much (198%) as women in unskilled jobs born in the same year – compared to a difference of less than half (45%) between men in the same groups.

Dalia Ben-Galim, associate director of the IPPR, said: “While feminism has delivered for some professional women, other women have been left behind. Many of the advances for women at the top have masked inequality at the bottom.

“The ‘break the glass ceiling’ approach that simply promotes women in the boardroom has not been as successful in changing family-friendly working culture or providing opportunities for other women to advance.

“Gender still has a strong independent impact on women’s earnings prospects – but class, education and occupational backgrounds are stronger determinants of a woman’s progression and earnings prospects.”

Motherhood was also a key factor, with women who had children earlier seeing their earnings prospects decrease compared to those who postponed starting a family, the study found. For men, the reverse was true, as fathers enjoyed a “fatherhood pay bonus” that saw them earn more than men without children.

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The Vatican’s Risky Sexism

From In These Times:

The archaic politics of the Catholic Church threaten both women’s lives and the church’s own survival.

BY Rev. Harry Knox and Jessica González-Rojas
March 30, 2013

This year the March celebration of Women’s History Month ends with a bang, in Passover, Easter, and the birthday of longtime women’s rights ally and social justice champion Cesar Chavez. This month also brought a new pope whose approach to women’s rights, in contrast with Chavez’s advocacy and the continuing shift within America’s Catholic laity, is less than enlightened on the equality and health concerns of women.

Regressive stands by the Vatican have far-reaching policy impact in the United States and worldwide. Their fallout is especially hazardous for Latinas, who face disproportionate barriers to accessing reproductive and other basic healthcare.

Much has been made of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s commitment to social justice and humility in ascending to his role of Pope Francis. Yet the failure by faithful observers and the press to connect these important concepts to the realities of women’s lives threatens to reduce them to empty pious rhetoric, like more white smoke from a chimney.

While the lofty and admirable principles of solidarity with the poor and aversion to the trappings of privilege that Francis has demonstrated in Argentina have been widely covered, we’ve heard less about the reality of his intense opposition to condom availability and women’s access to reproductive healthcare. That disjunction in Francis’ principles, and the gender bias it reflects, deserves scrutiny because it marks the fundamental challenge facing the institution the pope now heads, which has more than 1 billion adherents and inroads to government around the globe.

For Catholic Latinas in the United States and Latin America, the opposition to contraceptive use voiced by Catholic bishops is wildly out of step with what women are actually doing. In the U.S., 96 percent of sexually active Catholic Latinas have used a contraceptive banned by the Vatican, including 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 72 percent of women and couples use contraception, and about 11 percent would like to but lack access.

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Thousands Protest the UK Government’s Brutal Austerity

From The Nation:

Allison Kilkenny
on April 1, 2013

Britain’s government has introduced sweeping changes to the country’s welfare, justice, health and tax systems, including a “bedroom tax” that will reduce housing subsidies that primarily benefit poor people. The levy ostensibly aims to “tackle overcrowding and encourage a more efficient use of social housing,” resulting in an estimated million “social housing” households losing 14-25 percent of their housing benefits.

The Guardian:

Critics say it is an inefficient policy as in the north of England, families with a spare rooms outnumber overcrowded families by three to one, so thousands will be hit with the tax when there is no local need for them to move. Two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled.

Thousands of trade unions, advocates for the disabled, leading churches, and anti-poverty protesters held marches against the changes over the weekend, calling the cuts “unjust.” In a joint report released over the weekend, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland criticized the government of perpetuating myths about poverty in an attempt to justify the cuts.

The Methodist Church’s public policy adviser, Paul Morrison, told the BBC the cuts suggest people in poverty “deserve” the situation they are in.

“Our feeling is that these benefit changes are a symptom of an understanding of people in poverty in the United Kingdom that is just wrong,” he added.

Keeping with the theme of penalizing poverty, and as Morrison states, making it seem as though poor people “deserve” their plight, the government refers to the bedroom tax as an “under-occupancy penalty,” again placing the onus on the poor.

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The drive to dismantle Medicare

From The World Socialist Web Site:

Andre Damon
1 April 2013

Following the imposition of “sequestration” budget cuts that will amount to $1.2 trillion over the next decade, Obama and the Republicans are quickly turning their attention to slashing and ultimately dismantling Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly in the United States.

The New York Times published an article last week detailing ongoing closed-door negotiations between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans, pointing to broad agreement between the Democrats and Republicans on a deal to cut Medicare costs.

According to the Times, “The president told House Republicans that he was open to combining Medicare’s coverage for hospitals and doctor services. That would create a single deductible that could increase out-of-pocket costs for many future beneficiaries…”

The proposal would have devastating and almost immediate consequences for millions of people. Obama and the Republicans are proposing to merge Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care, and Part B, which covers outpatient care, such as doctor visits, tests and medical procedures.

The deductible for Part A, which is used by only 20 percent of Medicare recipients in a given year, is relatively high, at around $1,200, while the deductible for Part B is intentionally set far lower, at $147, in keeping with the mission of Medicare to enable the elderly to afford the minimum level of medical care required to stay healthy and live longer.

Combining Parts A and B would increase the amount of money that elderly people have to pay for doctor visits, a move that would sharply increase out-of-pocket costs for routine care.

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Study: Arctic ‘Greening’ Will Bring Global Ecological Consequences, More Warming

From Common Dreams:

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said study lead author

Andrea Germanos
Published on Monday, April 1, 2013 by Common Dreams

Global warming will bring a “greening” explosion to the Arctic in the next few decades, bringing repercussions to ecosystems worldwide and creating feedback loops that will likely cause more global warming than predicted, according to a new study.

In their study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, the team of scientists write that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by 52% by the 2050s, and warming temperatures will shift vegetation zones further and further north.

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, said in a statement.

“These impacts would extend far beyond the Arctic region,” Pearson stated. “For example, some species of birds seasonally migrate from lower latitudes and rely on finding particular polar habitats, such as open space for ground-nesting.”

The Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog explains how the “greening” will create a vicious warming cycle:

Most troubling, the conversion of white, snow-covered land to dark vegetation will further affect the warming of the planet. Because darker colors absorb more radiation than the white of ice and snow, shifting large masses of land to a darker color is projected to further accelerate warming, creating a positive feedback loop: more warming leads to a greener Arctic, which leads to more warming.

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Tar sands spill in Arkansas is a warning of the risks of tar sands pipelines

From The Natural Resources Defense Council:

Anthony Swift
April 1, 2013

On Friday afternoon, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured, spilling between 80,000 and 420,000 gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen in a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas. In 2010, a similar tar sands diluted bitumen spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River watershed demonstrated that diluted bitumen spills were significantly more challenging to clean up and damaging to the environment, particularly water bodies, than conventional crude. Moreover, tar sands diluted bitumen pipelines typically operate at significantly higher temperatures than conventional crude pipelines, increasing their risk of rupture due to external corrosion and other factors. While details regarding the cause of the rupture and the magnitude of the spill are still coming in, the Mayflower tar sands spill is yet another demonstration of the risks that tar sands pipelines pose to the communities and sensitive water resources they cross. At about a tenth of the full capacity of the Keystone XL tar sands pipelines, the 90,000 bpd Pegasus pipeline rupture offers us a small sample of the risk that tar sands pipelines pose to American communities.

Tar sands diluted bitumen is substantially different from the conventional crude historically moved on the U.S. pipeline system. It is a combination of heavier than water bitumen tar sands and light, toxic natural gas liquids or other petrochemical diluents. Together, this mix is called diluted bitumen, a substance that is fifty to seventy times thicker than conventional crudes like West Texas Intermediate (North America’s benchmark crude) and moves at higher pipeline temperatures. High temperature pipelines have been demonstrated to be at a substantially higher risk of rupture due to external corrosion – a study of a small network of high temperature pipelines in California showed they were 23 times as likely to rupture due to external corrosion than conventional pipelines.

The Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture adds to growing evidence that tar sands poses additional risks to our nation’s pipelines and communities. Canadian diluted bitumen tar sands was first moved on the U.S. pipeline system in the late nineties – primarily on pipelines in the northern Midwest. While U.S. regulators don’t differentiate between tar sands pipelines and conventional crude pipelines, States with pipelines that have moved the largest volumes of tar sands diluted bitumen for the longest period of time – North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan – have spilled 3.6 times as much crude per pipeline mile as the national average. And until late last year, Exxon’s 90,000 bpd Pegasus pipeline was the only pipeline to move Canadian diluted from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast.

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The Methane Beneath Our Feet

From The New York Review of Books:

Bill McKibben
April 1, 2013

Insouciant New Yorkers—here is another pending disaster to shrug off with characteristic brio! There is a huge, ongoing gas leak beneath your very feet. A team of natural gas experts recently commissioned to survey the New York system has found vastly elevated levels of methane in locations all over Manhattan, a clear indication that Con Ed’s 4,320-mile network of pipes, dating back to the 1800s, is corroded, full of holes, and spewing methane into the atmosphere. The main danger here is to planetary, not personal, safety: though it has received relatively little attention, methane, the primary component of natural gas, is second only to carbon dioxide on the list of greenhouse gases that are inducing climate change.

This unhappy news actually comes as little surprise to those who have been following the issue of gas leakages in recent months. Similar revelations actually began to emerge some years ago, when a Boston University professor named Nathan Phillips began trying to figure out how much gas was leaking from pipes in Boston. He fell in with a former local gas company contractor named Bob Ackley, who had been hired by gas companies throughout New England to find leaks, which he discovered were pervasive. As the years passed, he realized his employers considered gas lost from a myriad number of small leaks simply a cost of doing business, and declined to take remedial action unless there was immediate risk of explosion. Dismayed, Ackley struck out on his own as a whistleblower, finding an ally in Phillips. (The intertwined story of Phillips and Ackley is well-told by young journalist Phil McKenna in a recent e-book, Uprising, which also provides useful background.)

Because of the grave threat methane poses to the climate, the dangers of natural gas leakages go well beyond the immediate risk of exploding manhole covers (though recent measurements in Washington, DC indicate that there is enough leaking gas to cause any cautious pedestrian a certain amount of worry). And given the vastness of the problem, the leaks challenge some of the basic assumptions of current US energy policy, which has aggressively endorsed natural gas as a “clean” and climate-friendly alternative to oil and coal.

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