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With our attention caught by big headline impact stories like the sequester and gun control legislation, not a few Americans have thrown up their hands in disgust wondering, Who’s in charge here?

The president addresses the sequester, breaks out the bad language and calls cuts “dumb”, Congress seems unphased. It’s obvious that the attention of most of the legislature is elsewhere, having had their fill of last minute financial penny-counting and nickel-spending.

Here we are though, trending “dumb” and reiterating how many Americans don’t like these clowns (I’ve heard as low as a 12 percent approval rate for Congress).

If we want better luck at getting to the bottom of this Who’s in Charge question, maybe we should take a page from the congressional ledger, and put our attention elsewhere, too.

Try Canada for starters. Up here in New England, we’ve been pretty far removed from the question of tar sands oil being transported through U.S. soil. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been a smudge on communities from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf Coast.

That’s changed since oil giant Enbridge applied last November to reverse the flow in an existing Canadian pipeline so it can pump tar sands oil from Ontario to Montreal.


Enbridge insists it does not intend to continue the west-east flow through the connecting Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, which runs through northeastern Vermont. However, it seems unlikely that Canada would be uninterested in the benefits of getting tar sands oil to a coastline for export where it can fetch a higher price (not to mention that the refineries for this type of crude are not rife in eastern Canada).

After all, the Keystone XL pipeline is set to send tar sands oil to the gulf coast via the Keystone Cushing extension and the Gulf Coast Project from Cushing, Oklahoma. This split into two pipelines was a decision made after application for the original pipe line was denied by President Obama. He later endorsed the southern section; the northern section still awaits approval.

Construction of these pipelines is done largely without due process, requiring only a Presidential Permit, issued by the secretary of state without any required public commentary or environmental review, despite the particularly devastating effects of this kind of crude (See the 2010 Kalamazoo spill).

One more note, before we head back to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. This is an address of the commonly heard argument that these kind of projects are necessary to decrease our dependency on oil from the middle east. False.

The International Energy Agency announced in its November World Energy Outlook that the United States is on target to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s number one oil producer by 2020. That’s seven years from now. The U.S. met 83% of our own energy needs in the first six months of 2012. Is it naive to propose that we can meet the other 17% through conservation and green energy initiatives?

Who’s in charge here? Why are we allowing projects on U.S. soil that have a proven track-record of environmental destruction, and that don’t offer any benefit our citizens?

In Vermont, we like to think the people are in charge. Our legislature has introduced a bill that would apply VT Act 250 to oil and petroleum pipelines, essentially requiring what federal law does not, a land-use permit process that could include professional review and public comment.

Even here, it is an uphill battle against big money and big oil. Green Mountain Power and Vermont Gas are part of an intricate labyrinth of holding companies, whose throne is held by Enbridge.

But. The uphill battles are those that make us strongest. Instead of wondering who is in charge as disappointments pile into an outrageous hill of capitol rubbish, remember.

The choice remains everyday: to accept, or, to get involved, and make a change.