Washington — A looming decision on one of the most-debated environmental issues in recent years has exposed the Jewish community’s fundamentally different perceptions about what’s at stake: national security for America and for its ally Israel, or the battle against climate change.
The American Jewish Committee, one of the largest and most influential Jewish groups, has been lobbying the Obama administration and Congress to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a massive infrastructure project that would carry oil produced in Western Canada’s vast tar sands to refining facilities in the United States. AJC’s position reflects the group’s policy of viewing energy issues primarily through the prism of their impact on America’s ties to Arab countries and to Israel.
“Our goal is to have less petro-dollars going to the pockets of problematic regimes,” said Richard Foltin, AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs. The group has argued for years that the United States and Israel would be safer if America attained energy independence by no longer relying on Middle Eastern nations for its energy needs.
Meanwhile, most of the broader Jewish community has chosen to sit out the Keystone debate, leaving only a few smaller communal groups to uphold the traditional alliance between Jewish activism and the environmental movement.
Keystone XL, the final phase of a long- planned transnational pipeline project, is expected to enable Canada to ship 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the U.S. Gulf Coast from Alberta in Canada — nearly double Alberta’s current capacity. While similar pipelines exist throughout the United States, environmentalists have seized on Keystone as a symbol of the global warming threat. They have mounted a major campaign to highlight the climate change danger they say will come from releasing the carbon latent in the Canadian tar sands if they are exploited for oil consumption. The activists have also warned that leaks from the pipeline will contaminate land and water aquifers and wreak environmental damage. Keystone supporters, meanwhile, point to a series of huge accidents involving the shipment of oil by rail to argue that this concern is misplaced.