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Mom, There's a Dog Stapled to That Tree

The first rescue dog I met in Mexico was a timid Jack Russell terrier mix called Bobby. He was sitting in the back of a small white cargo van, wearing a plastic cone over his head and swallowed up in a pink comforter. Every time the van hit a speed bump, Bobby trembled and staggered. He tried to nuzzle my thigh but the cone kept getting in the way.

We were headed to Milagros Caninos, the self-proclaimed first dog sanctuary in Latin America. Patricia Ruiz, the sanctuary’s founder, proprietor and chief evangelist, was driving. I was in the back with Bobby because Ruiz had company in the front seat—an intern from Germany and a Maltese with no right eye. As we bumped our way up into the hills above Xochimilco, Ruiz, a middle-age, petite blond in big, lightly-tinted sunglasses, kept asking if I was comfortable, and she began to tell me about her life’s work.

Years ago, before Milagros Caninos even existed, there was Bobby. He was Ruiz’s first rescue. She and her daughter had come across a small object nailed by its ears to a tree. At first they thought it was a doll but soon realized they were looking at a live dog. Unable to free him, Ruiz screamed and screamed until a passing driver stopped to help. They removed him from the tree, and Bobby has lived a healthy life in the years since—albeit with his ears partially amputated.

When we arrived at Milagros Caninos, I could see immediately why Ruiz called it a “sanctuary.”  The place looked like a paradise. As Ruiz chatted with a young man who turned out to be Osvaldo Vital, the sanctuary’s full-time veterinarian, I examined the grounds. Beyond the edge of the driveway and through the trees was a view of the sweeping valley below. In the opposite direction was the sanctuary itself, gated and punctuated by a high, ivy-covered building. Men in dark red shirts and dusty red pants milled about. Including Dr. Osvaldo, Milagros Caninos has a staff of 10 that provides the dogs with 24-hour care.

Milagros Caninos (ineloquently-but-directly translated to “miracle canines”) has been open since 2006 and is currently home to 128 dogs who have all suffered at one point or another. It's on the grounds of what used to be Ruiz’s family’s country home, located on the outskirts of Delegación Xochimilco, 15 miles south of the center of the city but further away in both practical and spiritual terms. To get there, I had to take two subways and ride the entire length of a light rail.

Xochimilco is famous for its floating gardens and massive canal system—the most visible remnant of an era when most of what is now Mexico City was underwater. More than 400,000 people live there, but in some ways, it barely feels like Mexico City at all. The taxis are the same color and the streets are still crowded, but the posters advertising DJ appearances and Stoli vodka you see glued to fences in my neighborhood aren’t there. Instead, you see posters for mariachi concerts and the upcoming rodeo. There are fewer tall buildings. There are more stray dogs.

DEPENDING ON WHOM YOU ask, between one and five million stray dogs live among the human population of about 22 million in greater Mexico City. Like they do just about everywhere else, dogs make popular pets here. Stroll through parks and you’ll see dozens of them either lined up obediently before trainers like fresh military recruits, splashing around off-leash in shallow fountains, or being carried around like babies in the arms of their owners. Then you’ll see those same owners suddenly changing directions in the middle of a sidewalk, yanking at their pet’s leashes in order to avoid an encounter with one of Mexico City’s many, many strays.

At first glance, the contrast between a nappy stray mutt and a sweater-wearing pug—between third- and first-world dog—looks like a convenient metaphor for Mexico City itself. According to government statistics (PDF), more than two-thirds of Mexico City residents live in poverty; air pollution, while improving, still sometimes keeps students inside at recess; and despite its relative isolation from narco-related violence, crime rates in Mexico City are high. At the same time, Mexico City is also a blossoming cultural and commercial center. European-style bicycle sharing has taken off and more new public transit initiatives are on the way. The art and music scenes are booming, and the historic center is undergoing a renaissance due to rehabilitation efforts funded by mega-billionaire telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim.

The differences are also evident in dog culture. On one hand, animal cruelty laws are insufficient and unenforced. Legally speaking, beating up a dog has not historically been much different from running through a stop sign. Pet abandonment is commonplace, and pet sterilization is still taboo. On the other hand, the city’s incoming head of government, Miguel Angel Mancera, has taken interest in animal issues, even pledging to build the first public hospital exclusively for the care of stray dogs.

AS SOON AS RUIZ led me through the gate into Milagros Caninos, we were greeted by dozens of yelping and howling and limping and ecstatic dogs. There were a few with three legs, a few more pulling wheelchairs. They jumped and played and ran wildly across the three-tiered lawn. Ruiz reached down to hug a shaggy old retriever mix.

“This one is named Almendro (Almond),” she said. “He is a dog who was addicted to drugs.”

Ruiz explained that when Almendro first arrived at Milagros Caninos, they had to keep him sequestered from other dogs for months while he sobered up and underwent treatment. During that time, he would hurt himself by flinging his body against walls.

“What drug was he addicted to?”

“Paint thinner.”

If he were returned to his old owners, Ruiz was sure Almendro would again be beaten and again become an addict. I got the sense that Ruiz considered Almendro and the other dogs at Milagros Caninos to be her own; they were all her pets. I had been under the impression that the dogs only lived in the sanctuary for a short period before finding permanent homes elsewhere—but adoption from Milagros Caninos is rare.

As Ruiz said, “Nobody wants to adopt a paraplegic dog, a blind dog, a dog without eyes, a dog with cancer.”

Soon after Almendro, I met Laurel, who had his jaw, tongue, and teeth tied to the bumper of a car and yanked almost completely off. Under a shaggy coat that covered his eyes, I could barely see that Laurel had no lower jaw whatsoever. I also met Apio (Celery), who had his penis cut off in such a way that, before undergoing surgery, he was unable to urinate. Ruiz approached Apio and ruffled the scruff of his neck and said, with complete sincerity, “Now you can make pee pee. Yes you can, yes you can.”

Milagros Caninos is a better home than most adoptive parents could provide. Here there is full-time attention, 15,000 square meters of open space, and the companionship of other dogs. But staffing a place like Milagros Caninos is expensive—so are the food and medical supplies needed to care for 128 dogs. Ruiz pays for nearly everything with what she solemnly and repeatedly calls “personal resources.” Those resources, though, are nearly exhausted. Milagros Caninos is unable to accept any new dogs. But even if they could, it would not be nearly enough.

BETO CASTILLO HEADS THE non-profit group El Muro (The Wall). On Ruiz's recommendation, I met Castillo backstage of a show called “ANIMAL ... ES” that his group puts on three times a week in a small Mexico City playhouse. Castillo and an actress named Sylvia Pasquel star in the show, which consists of skits, monologues, and short video interludes, along with a different celebrity guest in every performance. In a shiny red shirt and skinny black tie, Ruiz came off a bit like the entertainment director of a cruise ship—and he happily hammed it up for the audience from the start of the show. But when Castillo spoke about animals and violence in Mexico, he sounded like an on-message politician. He admires Ruiz more than anybody in Mexico for the work she does at Milagros Caninos, but he believes that shelters and sanctuaries are inherently flawed because they address the symptoms of Mexico's stray dog problem, not the disease.

“We think those efforts are admirable, but they’re not going to change the situation because they don’t reach people,” Castillo said. “They’re taking care of the dog, but they’re not reaching the person. The person who abandons, the person who abuses, the person who is indifferent.”

Due to sheer logistical difficulty and the constant battles to secure funding, the work shelters and sanctuaries do is inherently inward-looking, when what's needed is to look outward.

“We can't find homes for five million dogs,” Castillo said, “We're not going to be able to give them away in adoptions. But we can try to sterilize the majority, or at least a percentage, and at least stop them from reproducing while they keep living in the streets.”

Still, one of the monologues in “ANIMAL ... ES” dealt with the story of a dog who lives at Milagros Caninos.

RUIZ HAD MENTIONED PAY de Limón (Lime Pie) on the van ride up to the sanctuary, but I had no idea what she was talking about—I didn’t yet know that nearly all of her dogs are named after foods. We climbed up to the highest tier of the tortured dog area of Milagros Caninos and over to a fenced-in section where a single, light-brown dog was playing with one of the red-shirted staff members, jumping up and down on his hind legs with incredible balance. I asked why Pay de Limón was by himself. He is so famous, Ruiz said, that people come to Milagros Caninos just to see him.

Pay was rescued from a trash heap in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, with no front paws. Apparently before moving on to torturing humans—cutting off fingers, one by one, and then the entire hand—a criminal organization had practiced on Pay. The amputations had been extremely clean, indicating the work of professionals, vets said. After he was found, Pay had been sent covertly to Milagros Caninos, where at first he was kept, hidden from the public. Eventually, with the help of a lab in Denver called OrthoPets, Pay was fitted with prosthetic front paws, and he re-learned how to run around normally.

But even with his prosthetics off, as they were that day, Pay de Limon seemed as happy as any four-legged dog I’d ever seen. His tail wagged, and his tongue drooped from his mouth. It was hard to imagine how a dog going through an ordeal like that and still remain so pleasantly dog-like. I asked Ruiz for more detail.

“Was it a narco group?”

“A very famous narco group.”

“Can you say the name?”

Her voice hushed.

“The Zetas,” she said. “This [story] isn’t coming out in Mexico right?”

One talking point I’ve heard repeatedly from animal rights activists in Mexico is that serial killers frequently begin with the torture and murder of animals. This notion is the basis for much of the work that Castillo's group El Muro sets out to do and has even greater prescience because of the ongoing and omnipresent drug violence in the country. In 2009, an alleged Zetas leader named Baltazar Saucedo Estrada was arrested for orchestrating an attack that killed 53 people at a casino. His nickname? “Mataperros,” or “Dog Killer.” There have also been reports that cartels train and even desensitize recruits by having them practice dismemberment on dogs.

When we entered Pay de Limón’s pen, Ruiz took his stumps in her hands. (Pay’s prosthetics had just been adjusted in Denver and were waiting for him at a nearby veterinary hospital.) “I’m your mommy,” she kept saying, “I'm your mommy.”

A NATION OF MOMS like Ruiz isn’t enough to solve Mexico’s stray dog problem. It is the result of generations of human negligence and will require generations of broad societal awareness to resolve. But progress is being made. Sterilization education in Mexico City is slowly beginning to take hold. Activists believe that what happens first in Mexico City will eventually spread to the rest of the country. Progressive ideas generally radiate outward from the capital, catching on in big cities like Monterrey and Guadalajara and then in rural areas like Oaxaca. Also in Mexico City, legislation was recently signed that, for the first time, recognizes animal cruelty as a crime punishable under the penal code—something more severe than a traffic violation. But in a country that has more cats and dogs than it has children under nine years old, educating pet owners is only a start. There are still all the animals on the street, living terribly but still reproducing, unencumbered by human society.

While people like Castillo and Ruiz argue loudly for the sterilization of stray dogs, local and state governments generally opt to either ignore strays or to simply put them down. Legally, governments that put down stray dogs are required to do so in a humane fashion. However, giving street dogs a dignified death is hardly a priority for governments dealing with poverty, corruption, and a drug war. Barbiturate injections (the preferred humane method) are expensive. Other methods, like electrocution, are not. In some pounds (known as centros antirrábicos, or anti-rabies centers, in Mexico), the dogs are simply wetted and then connected to a car battery. In others, men allegedly lock them into cages and beat them to death with baseball bats.  

According to Castillo, society pays the price when people are forced to make a living by killing so many dogs with such brutal methods. He painted a dramatic picture of a broke man with an unhappy home life taking his frustrations out on dogs every day at the pound. That violence then becomes routine, and animals become objects. But the effect of such policies is also broader, and hints at the tensions between first-world Mexico and third-world Mexico. Take this, from a 2006 editorial in the newspaper La Jornada, which is published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM):

Even though our government officials like to tell us that we are part of the first world, our public health authorities continue to employ cruel methods to ‘control’ the overpopulation of dogs and cats, which is a symptom mainly of civic irresponsibility, of insufficient legislation in regards to animal care, and of people's willingness to abandon pets or let them reproduce at will then leave the resulting puppies, unwanted, in the street.”

Earlier this year, the municipal government of Tlalnepantla, a municipality in Estado Mexico (adjacent to Mexico City), which puts down about 900 stray dogs a month, pledged to end electrocution. This is where Castillo believes sterilization should come in. Sterilizing a dog is more expensive than electrocution and other inhumane methods but still cheaper than a barbiturate cocktail. Better to let them go on living bad lives on the streets than to force dogs to suffer cruel deaths, the thinking goes. Through sterilization, Mexico's stray dog population can shrink in a slow and humane way. No solution is perfect, though, and while dogs with responsible and educated owners can be tended to relatively easily, who exactly is going to drive around picking up all the stray dogs, millions of them, and take them in to get spayed and neutered?

"HIS NAME IS TLACOYO,” Ruiz said of a dog who was off by himself, staggering in the shade of a tree. “He has a neurological disorder. He walks in circles. He does it all day.”

“Does he play much with other dogs?”

“Also, he's blind.”

We finished the tour in the high-ceilinged room where Milagros Caninos serves tacos and sells T-shirts to the hundreds of people who come visit the sanctuary on the one Sunday a month it is made open to the public. Some Sundays the sanctuary gets over 600 people and is forced to turn them away at the base of the driveway. Ruiz asked me whether I ever owned any dogs, and it turns out we both grew up with Airedale Terriers. I wondered what was it about dogs that made them seem so obviously worth endeavors like this one, worth giving over a country estate and a fortune and a lifetime of energy to—even secure in the knowledge that you could only directly help some hundreds among the needy millions. 

“Everything is worth it,” Ruiz said. “You suffer a lot, but it's worth it. There are some days that are really difficult, but in the end when you see that you've tried to help a dog or a lot of dogs, it's worth having lived that day, even with all the sad and hard parts.”

Ruiz and I loaded into the van with the one-eyed Maltese, with Bobby, and this time with Pay de Limon, who was on his way to the veterinary hospital to try out his new prosthetic paws. We made our way down through the hills, past the canals, which Hernan Cortes had once compared to those of Venice, and into bustling Xochimilco. At a stoplight, Ruiz looked out the window and saw a stray dog with a sagging belly standing alone on the sidewalk.

“She has puppies in there.”

Eric Nusbaum lives in Mexico City. His work has appeared in Slate, Deadspin, The Daily Beast, and The Best American Sports Writing. He founded the baseball blog Pitchers & Poets and is a founder of The Classical.

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In Battle Over Bivavles, Salazar Sides With Environmental Groups

Oysters_bagsBags of oysters. Photo: Orin Zebest

It's been a year of important milestones in Marin County, California. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes the Marin Headlands, turned 40. The Golden Gate Bridge hit 75 years. Further north, the Point Reyes National Seashore is 50. Now, an oyster farm's lease to operate on National Park Service land inside the National Seashore has expired. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar rejected pleas to extend and renew the lease, ending a highly charged battle between Drakes Oyster Company, the National Park Service, and environmental groups.

During the 1960s, both the headlands and the beaches along the Point Reyes Peninsula were under threat by developers who wanted to build up and subdivide those landscapes, so locals pushed for protection, fought hard, and won. It's difficult to imagine what Point Reyes would look like today if it had been developed and a planned major freeway cut through West Marine—let alone a proposed nuclear power plant.

But recently, the Drakes Oyster Company has been at the center of a storm over the Drakes Estero, a 2,000-acre, ecologically important estuary in which it operates. In 1962, Point Reyes National Seashore was added to the National Park System and sections of it were later deemed to become wilderness areas. In 1972, the National Park Service bought out the Johnson Oyster Company and granted it a lease to continue operating for 40 years. When Kevin Lunny purchased the company in 2004, his lawyers told him they could likely get the lease extended, according to the Mercury News.

The accusations on both sides have been fierce. In a polished, 20-minute video on its website, Drakes Bay Oyster Company accuses the government of looking for environmental harm where it does not exist and says the National Park Service has hid information that would have exonerated the company from claims that its operations hurt the estero and its federally protected harbor seals. In the video, Corey Goodman, a neuroscientist and biotech entrepreneur who Drakes Bay called in to fact-check the Park Service's findings, accuses the NPS of scientific misconduct.

But the Sierra Club, the Marin Audubon Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are among the groups who applaud Salazar's decision, saying that moving forward with a marine wilderness designation for the estero—making it the first such area on the West Coast—is the right thing to do.

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Secretary of State Candidate Susan Rice Has Major Stake in Canadian Tar Sands

The article originally appeard on OnEarth.

Susan Rice, the candidate believed to be favored by President Obama to become the next Secretary of State, holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline. If confirmed by the Senate, one of Rice’s first duties likely would be consideration, and potentially approval, of the controversial mega-project.

Rice's financial holdings could raise questions about her status as a neutral decision maker. The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rice owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company seeking a federal permit to transport tar sands crude 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing fragile Midwest ecosystems and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.

Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel—including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine. That includes Enbridge, which spilled more than a million gallons of toxic bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010—the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Rice also has smaller stakes in several other big Canadian energy firms, as well as the country’s transportation companies and coal-fired utilities. Another 20 percent or so of her personal wealth is derived from investments in five Canadian banks. These are some of the institutions that provide loans and financial backing to TransCanada and its competitors for tar sands extraction and major infrastructure projects, such as Keystone XL and Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would stretch 700 miles from Alberta to the Canadian coast.

In 2010, for instance, when Rice and her husband held at least $1.5 million in Royal Bank of Canada, the institution was labeled Canada's most environmentally irresponsible company by the Rainforest Action Network for its support of tar sands development. Public pressure from environmentalists and Canada’s First Nations tribes convinced the bank to stop funding tar sands projects earlier this year.

“It’s really amazing that they’re considering someone for Secretary of State who has millions invested in these companies,” said Bill McKibben, a writer and founder of the activist groups and Tar Sands Action, which have organized protests against the Keystone XL project. “The State Department has been rife with collusion with the Canadian pipeline builders, and it’s really distressing to have any sense that that might continue to go on.” Emails obtained by an environmental group last year show what critics call a “cozy and complicitous relationship” between State Department officials and a lobbyist for TransCanada, who was also a former deputy campaign director for current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's failed 2008 presidential bid. The agency also assigned an environmental impact review of the Keystone project to a company with financial ties to TransCanada.

As ambassador to the United Nations, Rice has not been directly involved in the State Department’s Keystone XL review, which came to a head at the end of 2011. After initially indicating it would likely approve TransCanada’s application, the State Department ordered a review of alternate routes to avoid putting critical water sources in Nebraska at risk. The move, which officials said would likely push the approval process back to the first three months of 2013, was an attempt to spare the Obama administration a politically risky decision just before an election year.

Greenlighting the pipeline would have hurt the president with environmental advocates—more than 1,200 people were arrested in anti-Keystone protests led by McKibben at the White House in summer 2011. But denying it outright would have given Republicans an election year attack line, saying Obama had cost the nation much-needed jobs (although independent studies have shown that TransCanada’s job creation claims for the pipeline are greatly exaggerated). As it was, the president still received significant heat, and Mitt Romney pledged to approve the pipeline on Day 1 if he had won the election.

Were she to become Secretary of State, Rice would be in charge of the new environmental review process and would be in a position to decide whether to issue TransCanada a permit for sections of Keystone XL stretching from Oklahoma to the Canadian border. (The pipeline’s southernmost leg has already been approved and is under construction in Texas—with protesters perching in trees and chaining themselves to construction equipment in an attempt to stop it.)

Rice is reportedly Obama’s favorite to take the helm at the State Department next year. Clinton has said repeatedly that she plans to step down shortly after Obama’s second inauguration in January. In addition to Rice, reportedly the president's lead candidate for the job, U.S. Senator John Kerry had also reportedly made it onto the president’s short list. Kerry, whose net worth of at least $232 million makes him far wealthier than Rice, does not own shares of TransCanada or Enbridge, the major tar sands pipeline companies, although he does have stock in some other Canadian energy interests.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Rice’s net worth sat somewhere between $23.5 million and $43.5 million in 2009, the latest year for which the center has done a full analysis of her finances. That makes her either the wealthiest person currently serving in the executive branch or a close second to Clinton. (The uncertainty surrounding these figures is due to the way officials are required to disclose their investments; instead of declaring the specific amount of stock they own, they are required by law only to declare a range.)

Other public officials have been criticized for pushing for the Keystone XL project while standing to benefit financially. The non-profit Sunlight Foundation watchdog group reported in December 2011 that four members of Congress who own shares in TransCanada had pressed for the pipeline’s approval—either by supporting bills that would have forced the State Department to issue a permit or by writing to Clinton or Obama, urging them to give the go-ahead. Rice’s ownership of TransCanada stock was noted by the Sunlight Foundation but not considered a conflict of interest at the time, because she had no direct role in the approval process.

Neither Rice’s office nor the White House returned OnEarth’s calls for comment about her financial holdings.

It’s unclear when Rice began investing in Canadian energy and banks, but the Stanford University graduate and Rhodes Scholar worked for the prestigious McKinsey & Company consulting firm’s Toronto office from 1990 to 1993, marrying Canadian-born TV producer Ian Cameron in 1992. She then joined the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. (Financial disclosure forms aren’t available for Rice’s security council tenure; by law, they’re destroyed after six years.) Rice later became President Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs, then joined the non-profit Brookings Institution think tank during the George W. Bush administration. She advised both the Kerry and Obama presidential campaigns on foreign policy.

According to the reports she filed in May 2012, Rice and her husband have a wide-ranging portfolio that includes more than 100 securities, such as IBM, Monsanto, Apple, BP, and McDonald’s. Dan Auble, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics who studies the personal finances of public officials, said it’s not unusual to see energy investments play a significant role in their financial portfolios, as they do with Rice and her husband. (Auble said the holdings of a public official’s spouse are included in financial disclosure reports because they have the same potential to create a conflict of interest.) In their case, however, nine of the 14 holdings they claimed that top $500,000 are Canadian energy interests or banks.

If Rice does get the Secretary of State job, federal ethics officials could recommend that she sell her stock in TransCanada and related companies before deciding on Keystone XL, Auble said. But that’s not a sure thing.

Leading Keystone opponents say they wouldn’t necessarily oppose Rice’s nomination—but they would want someone else in charge of deciding the pipeline’s fate. “It would be one of the first decisions she would make, and she’s not qualified to make an unbiased decision,” said Jane Kleeb, the executive director of Bold Nebraska, a group that has fought to block the Keystone XL pipeline.

“It’s one more clear sign that the State Department should not be handling this,” added McKibben (who is also an OnEarth contributing editor). Both advocates believe the Environmental Protection Agency or the White House Council on Environmental Quality would be more qualified to assess the environmental impacts of Keystone XL. But an executive order issued by President George W. Bush in April 2004 makes the Secretary of State responsible for approving pipelines that cross the U.S. border. Kleeb suggested that Obama could change that order to shift the decision-making responsibility elsewhere.

Environmental advocates (including the Natural Resources Defense Council, which publishes OnEarth) have sought to block the Keystone XL pipeline and further development of the Alberta tar sands fields due to their climate impact and potential for pollution and dangerous oil spills. Extracting bitumen—a heavy, viscous black oil—requires intensive open-pit mining in the heart of Canada’s boreal forest. More dirty and corrosive than conventional crude, bitumen requires extensive refining to become useable fuel. The entire process uses vast amounts of energy and water and creates three times the global warming pollution of conventional fuel, while shipping the bitumen through pipelines means an additional risk of corrosion and leaks.

Despite the environmental risks, tar sands development has become a major focus of the Canadian government and pillar of the country’s economy, championed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose administration has denounced environmental advocates and First Nations tribes opposed to pipeline construction as extremists. Alberta's tar sands contain the world's third largest proven oil reserve, but they’re landlocked and remote—hence the desire for more pipelines to provide Canadian energy companies with access to ports and refineries.

According to her most recent financial disclosure reports, along with her TransCanada investments, Rice and her husband own at least $1.5 million worth of stock in Enbridge (Canada’s No. 3 oil producer, according to Forbes), Cenovus (No. 7), and Encana (No. 8), as well as at least $1.25 million in Imperial (No. 2), $50,000 to $100,000 in Suncor (No. 1), and $15,000 to $50,000 in Canadian Natural (No. 6). (TransCanada is ranked at No. 5 by Forbes.) The couple has at least $1.25 million invested in Transalta, Alberta's largest coal-fired electricity power producer, and at least $1.5 million in Canadian Pacific Railway, which transports coal, oil, and gas and has been a major financial beneficiary of the North American energy boom.

On the banking side, Rice has investments totaling at least $5 million and up to $11.25 million in Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada, and Toronto Dominion. A report by the Dutch consulting firm Profundo Economic Research says several of these same banks are largely responsible for underwriting the expansion of Canada’s tar sands industry. “Investment in tar sands infrastructure now surpasses that of manufacturing across all of Canada,” according to the report.

Which means that regardless of Keystone XL’s fate, Canadian companies will continue to seek ways to pump bitumen from northern Canada to coastal refineries and ports, where it can be shipped to Europe, China, and other overseas markets. NRDC and other environmental groups have presented evidence that Enbridge is making plans to reverse a pipeline that currently carries regular crude from the New England coast to Montreal, and use it to ship tar sands oil in the other direction instead.

Since it crosses the U.S.-Canadian border, that plan would also require State Department approval.

OnEarth editor-at-large Ted Genoways contributed to this report.

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Pipe Dreams

Presidential candidates don’t usually squabble over underground infrastructure. So how did the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline become the biggest environmental issue of the election?

SEPTEMBER 2008: Energy company TransCanada applies for a U.S. permit to build Keystone XL.

FEBRUARY 2009: The State Department launches an environmental-impact study with Cardno Entrix—a consulting firm hired by Trans-Canada in the past. 

AUGUST 2011: The study finds that Keystone will have “no material impact” on the environment.

NOVEMBER 2011: Some 12,000 protesters encircle the White House. Days later, President Obama postpones his decision and requests further environmental review.

NOVEMBER 2011: Republican lawmakers introduce legislation aimed at forcing Obama to make a decision on Keystone.

JANUARY 2012: The president rejects TransCanada’s application; Mitt Romney refers to the pipeline for the first time, slamming Obama.

FEBRUARY 2012: TransCanada announces that it will split the pipeline in two and build the section from Oklahoma to Texas, which doesn’t require a permit to cross the U.S. border.

MARCH 2012: Obama fast-tracks the southern leg of the pipeline, boasting that his administration has laid enough pipeline “to circle the earth.”

APRIL 2012: Romney tells an Arizona crowd that he will “build that pipeline if I have to do it myself.”

Whether Obama or Romney wins may hardly matter: insiders say the pipeline will probably happen either way in early 2013. If he’s reelected, chances are Obama will let the second environmental-impact study run its course, then approve a plan, albeit with conditions. (He could, say, tie it to new vehicle emissions regulations.) And if Romney is elected? Despite his campaign promises, he can’t make Keystone his first order of business. He, too, will have to wait for the study.

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Loaded Questions

Didn’t they alter the route for Keystone XL?
Yes. TransCanada has proposed rerouting a 100-mile section around Nebraska’s Sandhills wetlands. But the new route still crosses the 174,000-square-mile Ogallala Aquifer, a source of drinking water and irrigation for eight states.

Who gets the oil?
Refineries in Texas, many of which are owned by three big companies—Valero, Total, and Shell-Saudi Aramco—that export much of their product to Latin America and Europe.

Who loses?
Midwesterners accustomed to cheap gas, thanks to a supply glut at the refinery hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, which Keystone XL will relieve. Some experts think prices could jump 50 cents a gallon in the Midwest.

What’s in the stuff?
Tar-sands oil, or bitumen, is a nearly solid fuel laden with sulfur and heavy metals. To make it flow through the pipe, diluents are blended in. These are often natural-gas liquids, which can include the carcinogen benzene.

If we don’t build Keystone, won’t the oil just go to China?
It’s true that China is very interested in Alberta. But the U.S.-or-China equation is simplistic—this is about the global oil market. “North America is in the hot seat to turn on more oil than we could need for the next 100 years,” says Deborah Gordon, a climate expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But if we turn it on all at once, we’re going to crash the market.”

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