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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An old idea whose time has come?

One vital role of social movements is to create political opportunities, both for policy changes and electoral changes. To address the climate crisis here at home we desperately need both as our federal government continues to stumble forth in a state of noctambulism induced by a fossil fuel industry steadily injecting endless flows of cash and lobbyists into our democracy. Because of this, regrettably, the likelihood that an apt carbon tax will be passed through both chambers of our current Congress and signed into law by our President is literally 0.00%.

So, how do we change the odds before the clock runs out?

While the hurricanes and droughts, floods and wildfires, melting glaciers and rising seas are starting to wake up voters and politicians alike – it’s become clear the need to grow the social movement to stop climate change to a height that Washington and our state governments can no longer ignore. And that’s a good thing, because all around us the grassroots are getting serious, getting organized and making noise.

Bill McKibben,’s founder, recently published an article in Rolling Stone calling this decentralized ground swell, ‘The Fossil Fuel Resistance’:

It's a sprawling, diverse and remarkably united movement, marked by its active opposition to the richest and most powerful industry on Earth. The Fossil Fuel Resistance has already won some serious victories, blocking dozens of new coal plants and closing down existing ones – ask the folks at Little Village Environmental Justice Organization who helped shutter a pair of coal plants in Chicago, or the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, which fought to stop Chevron from expanding its refinery in Richmond, California. "Up to this point, grassroots organizing has kept more industrial carbon out of the atmosphere than state or federal policy," says Gopal Dayaneni of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project.

The article goes on to describe how the center of gravity has shifted within the movement, from big, established organizations to smaller, decentralized efforts:

In the Internet age, you don't need direct mail and big headquarters; you need Twitter. In Texas and Oklahoma, hundreds have joined actions led by the Tar Sands Blockade, which has used daredevil tactics and lots of courage to get between the industry and the pipeline it needs to move oil overseas. In Montana, author Rick Bass and others sat-in to stop the export of millions of tons of coal from ports on the West Coast. And all across the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in the Northeast, people have been standing up for their communities, often by sitting down in front of the fracking industry. The Fossil Fuel Resistance looks more and more like Occupy – in fact, they've overlapped from the beginning, since oil companies are the one percent of the one percent. The movements share a political analysis, too: A grid with a million solar rooftops feels more like the Internet than ConEd; it's a farmers market in electrons, with the local control that it implies.

The Fossil Fuel Resistance, like Occupy, has the potential to wield great power through its decentralized, horizontal design. But coming together as a movement to make specific, targeted demands will likely go a long way in helping to create political opportunities at the federal level. Implementing a nationwide Peoples’ Carbon Tax, charged with the electricity of Occupy, might just be what we need.

It would involve the Fossil Fuel Resistance pivoting in the direction of more direct action, civil disobedience and hard-hitting campaigns with the explicit intention of imposing economic costs on the fossil fuel industry. It would take infinity groups large and small organizing blockades of coal train routes and coal ports, continued lock downs at pipeline construction sites and MTR operations, sit-ins at gas stations, refinery entrances, and fracking wells. We’d have to clearly and emphatically communicate both to Washington and the electorate, that if our policymakers can’t deliver a carbon tax, then all right – we will.

And while courageous activists from groups like Earth First! to Greenpeace, Rising Tide to the Tar Sands Blockade, and many many others have already begun its implementation, it will take the whole movement pushing together to open the barricades defending fossil fuel interests in Washington. But if it could be sparked, along side the Fossil Free divestment campaign that is catching fire across the nation and beyond, a Peoples’ Carbon Tax might add an important layer of contentiousness to our narrative. With Fearless Summer and Summer Heat around the corner and Washington in gridlock, experimenting with this messaging strategy might be worthwhile during the months ahead. 

Our growing numbers would mimic a rising tax over time and our deepened connections within this loving community would serve as the dividends.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sierra Club engages in civil disobedience for the first time in their organization's history.

Forward on Climate rally brings 40,000+ people to Washington DC.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Go Fossil Free! from Steve Liptay on Vimeo.

I believe the most spiritual work to do on Earth is to get the liars out.
I believe the most spiritual work to do here in America is to get the liars out of the House.
And out of the Senate.
And out of the White House.

Our air, our land, our water can’t take much more.
Our Mother Earth, our home can’t take much more abuse.
Before she cracks, before she breaks down, before her eyes close.
She can’t take much more abuse.

Before her beauty fades to white.
Before the sensual fizzles away.

(Fall, 2011)

Saturday, November 24, 2012


We will win this fight for our future because of what we have on our side and because of what they have on their side.

On our side, we have justice and reverence for life.
On our side, we have human health.
On our side, we have planetary health.
On our side, we have the science and the economics.
On our side, we have the truth.

And on their side, they have lies on the tips of their tongues.
On their side, they have infections on our skin.
They have byproducts clogging our lungs, byproducts polluting our water, byproducts heating our atmosphere and acidifying our oceans.

On their side, they have cancer.
On their side, they have cancer.
On their side of the ledger, they have cancer.

On their side, they have mountaintops that are no longer, boreal forest that is no longer,  
On their side, they must take ownership for a Niger delta destroyed, a ravaged Oriente in Ecuador, the disaster in Gulf of Mexico and the Kalamazoo River and Punto Fijo and Texas City -- the list goes on and on and on.
On their side, they have the droughts and floods and wildfires, heat waves and crop failures. On their side, they have the super storms and rising seas. On their side, they have a business plan that guarantees that our civilization will reach the point of complete collapse.

On their side of this fight, they have greed, they have an unending greed.
On their side, they have suffering and death.
On their side they have old, white, rich, men whose time has come.

Because on our side, we have the youth rising up and a creative generation ready to lead the world.

On our side, we have a bright light shining.

On our side, we have love, we have joy and resolve, we have courage, we have song, we have humility, honesty and humor, we have open hearts and open minds.

On our side, we have the principles of democracy.
On our side, we have the numbers and we have the power.
And most importantly – we have history on our side.

It will not be easy. On our side, we have a long road, a steep climb ahead and a ticking clock that will not wait. But climb is marked with guide posts to help us steer past the moments of uncertainty. Past movements and generations past have revealed to us what it looks and feels like to take action with the fierce urgency of now.

It is our job to be dreamers.

It is our job to take back our streets and our halls of government.

It is our job to be dreamers and to keep on making history ours.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


CEO Cameron Todd and US Oil Sands Inc. are apparently “extremely proud of [their] achievements and [are] happy to pass such a responsible legacy to our children.”

(I apologize if that made you throw up a little bit into the back of your mouth.) In case you didn’t get the memo, these are the folks who in the near future plan to tear open 32,000 acres of Utah’s Book Cliff region to get at its tar sands and oil shale deposits. With extreme pride, they will be trucking in a magically benign secret solvent made out of orange peels to separate the oil from the sand and shale. And for their next trick (according to their June 2012 Corporate Presentation) they promise to “rapidly” reclaim the land and even remove the area’s invasive species by replanting with only native vegetation. They make it all sound so simple, so perfect, so marvellous! In the name of progress and passing along a “responsible legacy to our children” they’ll rip apart our spectacular Utah wilderness, grind it up, wash it off, and spit it out better than before!

Oh and it’s also worth noting – their sights aren’t just set on Utah, they plan to expand into Colorado and Wyoming as well.

After watching Cameron Todd’s 2011 presentation to the Uintah County Energy Summit, I decided to contact the CEO. Near the end of his presentation (28 min. 25 sec.) he calls for a “healthy debate” and argues that “public discourse is good.” To my surprise he actually wrote me back, not once but twice.

It’s kind of a long read, but it does bring to light some of the nonsense Big Oil has poured into poor Mr. Todd’s thinking cap.

Here’s the exchange:

From: steve liptay <>
Sent: September-01-12 5:05 PM
Cameron Todd <>
Subject: A few questions regarding US Oil Sands project in UT

Dear Mr. Todd,

I just watched a YouTube video of a recent presentation you gave on the US Oil Sands project in Utah and was impressed by your call for a healthy debate and openness to public discourse. I have a few questions regarding one of your claims (on page 14 of the USO-2012-06-21-Corporate Presentation): your company states that there will be "Rapid Reclamation" of the land.

To a concerned environmental community here in Utah, what evidence can you provide to back up that claim?

Assuming your company will ensure that the ecological health of the land is fully recovered -- what measurements of ecological health will you utilize in your analysis? Or in other words, how will you be able to prove that the reclamation process has succeeded?

Has your company established a base-line that accounts for species richness or has quantified the area's biodiversity?

And lastly, could you be more specific as to the time frame you're talking about when you use the term "rapid" -- does this mean that the land will be back to normal in a matter of weeks, months, years, decades, centuries?

Again thank you calling for a healthy debate and your open commitment to backing up your company's claims.

I look forward to your response.

One of many concerned Utah residents,
Steve Liptay

Steve Liptay

Realizing the Future

From: Cameron Todd <>
Sent: September-01-12 6:23 PM
To: steve liptay <>
Subject: A few questions regarding US Oil Sands project in UT

Dear Mr. Liptay,

Thank you for your interest. I will provide a bit of a general overview, however our environmental studies and plans, completed in advance of permitting and submitted and reviewed with state regulators, are much greater in scope and depth.

Regarding reclamation, I would note that current practice in oil sands and in many resource and mining projects is to reclaim the land after the project is over. In many projects this means after 30-50 years or longer. This means that a mine pit is open from the start to the end, and frequently gets larger and larger. Typically many mine pits are converted into tailings ponds where materials that cannot be recovered or appropriately disposed of are stored until they can be dealt with. Impact on wildlife and the local ecology is highly related to surface area disturbed, chemistry of the tailings and effluents and length of time of exposure.

Contrary to this practice, US Oil Sands will be using concurrent reclamation. This is possible because the process we use uniquely creates clean tailings without the need for a tailings pond. This means that we recover all of the materials and replace them in the mine pit as soon as we have recovered the oil from the sand. Typically this is estimated to be a period of approximately 3 years since it takes us that long to recover the oil sand from a given area. Thus as we continue to extend the mine outward, we are also covering it up and reclaiming behind us as we go. This means that at any one time we are impacting 10 to 20 times less surface area than similar projects elsewhere. Furthermore, since we use only a biodegradable solvent made from citrus, there are no harmful residues or effluents to recover or concern on leaching from tailings. Also our process recovers the highest amount of bitumen from the oil sand of any process commercially in use today, and the only oil left in the tailings is basically tiny solid asphalt granules in very low concentrations (approximately .5%). In this way we actually will be removing much of the oil and associated hydrocarbon components that currently seep naturally from the oil sands into the environment. When we are finished there is basically nothing left to seep.

We would also note that we are not the only parties occupying and using the land. Conventional oil and gas operators operate in the same area and on the same land, as do ranchers, hunters, RV operators, campers, and others. These parties also have an impact on the land, and not all of them are accountable for their actions. We try to work with other land holders and users and generally work to clean up after all. We would also note that the State and local governments conduct operations on the land including building roads, managing invasive species and creation of habitat. We also operate adjacent to private land owners as well as Federal lands which are subject to different requirements and regulation.

To aid in reclamation we remove and store what topsoil exists in the area disturbed. We also store the overburden, which are the rocky layers found above the oil sand layers. When we have filled in the mined areas with the clean recovered sand, we replace the overburden, contour the land to fit the surrounding geography and then replace the topsoil. The topsoil is seeded with native species as requested by governmental authorities. Typically they ask that we seed with species that are supportive of local plant and wildlife and especially of any species of concern. Notably this is an opportunity to replace invasive species that may have moved into the area prior to our development (such as non-native invasive weeds and scrub). To ensure that we appropriately reclaim all of the land satisfactorily, the company is required to post a bond with the state regulators. This bond will be in the millions of dollars, and the State is very clear on its expectations on how the land will be recovered, and they do continual inspection of progress and results. The bond is typically held for several seasons after the work has been completed in order to ensure that no problems crop up afterwards. Since our reclamation happens along the way, this ensures that any problem or concern of the State can be dealt with before it gets to be a bigger problem. Aside from the bond, the State has significant power to enforce an operator’s requirement to operate and reclaim appropriately. We are also accountable to the land owner (SITLA the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration) for stewardship of the environment.

Our company has already posted a bond for all lands disturbed during our piloting, drilling and exploration operations. Many of these well-sites and drill roads have already been partially reclaimed and seeded. State regulators have inspected our progress and have expressed satisfaction with the results to date, but we are not finished yet.

Prior to conducting operations and obtaining our permits, our company conducted significant environmental studies and review, including baseline studies and issues such as biodiversity. These have been submitted and reviewed with State authorities. This is the case even though our project is less than 2% the size and scale of all other commercial oil sands projects that are in operation today. The company continues to monitor our local environment and will do so as our operation commences and continues. If we are to be permitted to expand our operations beyond our permitted area, we will have to both demonstrate that our operation and reclamation of our existing operations meet our planned and required performance levels, and we will have to conduct additional baseline studies and address all environmental issues of concern including any new issues prior to being granted additional permits. Stakeholders and concerned parties are given opportunity to question and participate as specified under state regulations.

Our company believes we have a process which is far and away better than any commercial process that has ever been implemented to date, one that will have a smaller environmental footprint than any process, and one that we believe will potentially change the standard expected of other operators in North America.

If you have any other concerns or questions in this regard, please let me know.

Cameron Todd

Chief Executive Officer
US Oil Sands Inc.
Suite 950, 633 – 6’th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2Y5
Office:      403-233-9366
Cell:           403-630-6201
Fax:           403-290-0045

From: steve liptay <>
Sent: September-01-12 7:53 PM
Cameron Todd <>
Cc: Glen Snarr <>
Subject: Re: A few questions regarding US Oil Sands project in UT

Mr. Todd,

Thank you for your response -- it is heartening to hear that significant environmental studies and review, including baseline data on biodiversity have been compiled. If you wouldn't mind, could you or one of your staff email me a PDF of the report/reports? I am specifically interested in the methodology used and to be able to contact the biologists who collected and analyzed the data, in case I have any questions for them.

An additional concern I have is regarding the greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the scale of development you aspire to realize. I understand that your process will use less energy than the tar sands in Alberta because of the special citrus solvent, but the burning of the fuel itself by the consumer will contribute greatly to the crisis we're already facing.  As we reach 400 ppm of carbon dioxide we are already seeing drought and record heat waves devastating crop yields, record wildfire seasons, acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and ice caps, the list goes on... If we continue on the business-as-usual path, that your company and others are aggressively pursuing, and we shoot up to global concentrations of 600 ppm, 700 ppm, 800 ppm the consequences will be grave. That's what all of our trusted scientific institutions are telling us.  So I guess my question to you is how do you wrestle, on a personal level, with that reality?

Thanks again for your openness and willingness to address my concerns,


(Over three days went by with no response from Mr. Todd, so I wrote him again…)

From: steve liptay <>
Sent: Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 1:56 PM
Cameron Todd <>
Glen Snarr <>
Subject: Re: A few questions regarding US Oil Sands project in UT

Dear Mr. Todd and Mr. Snarr,

I wanted to take the time to thank you again for inviting an open dialog and open debate with the public regarding your companies proposed project in Utah. 

Mr. Todd you said in your last email that
"our company conducted significant environmental studies and review, including baseline studies and issues such as biodiversity. These have been submitted and reviewed with State authorities."

It would mean a lot to me if you or someone on your staff could share the results from these baseline studies. As a concerned citizen and member of the environmental community in Utah it is critical, for us to engage in any real debate over potential environmental concerns, to have access to previous studies. Since your company has done significant studies and review, I believe it is important that you share your data and analysis in an open and public manner.

Thank you for all that you are doing to make this the most environmentally friendly project it can be.

Steve Liptay

From: Cameron Todd <>
Sent: Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 3:12 PM
To: steve liptay <>
Subject: A few questions regarding US Oil Sands project in UT

Our company operates in a very competitive environment, and is not at liberty to share its technology, studies or work. The role of scrutinizing our designs and studies belongs to the appropriate regulatory  bodies. We have been working with these groups for some 8 years now, and have been subjected to extensive review, which has met their satisfaction.

Relative to your concern on greenhouse gases, you are right to recognize that the predominant emitter of GHG’s is not the producer of the oil, but rather the consumer of the fuel in his auto. I find it both illogical and hypocritical that detractors of hydrocarbon projects such as ours use the argument that the fuels the projects produce create GHG’s when the consumer uses them, and that therefore we should stop the projects. Stopping the project does nothing to stop the consumer from using the fuel. If you stop our project the consumer continues to fuel up as normal, and the refineries will simply buy their oil from someone else. The irony is that the US is already the largest oil importer in the world (some 8 million barrels per day), and Utah imports most of the oil that is run in local refineries. Oil imported from outside North America is not subject to the same environmental requirements, and much of it produces much higher GHG’s let alone the poor environmental and human rights standards of many of the countries that export oil. Every barrel of oil stopped from production on a highly efficient and leading environmental performing process will result in the importation of oil from outside which has a much worse environmental footprint, and the consequence is higher GHG’s than without a project such as ours. Further most of the folks who protest the project on the basis that it produces oil show up driving their cars and SUV’s. It seems they want someone else (big bad companies) to reduce fuel consumption which they are not prepared to do themselves. The change is  up to the consumer. The protestors if successful do no good, but rather create a worse environmental result by creating more GHG’s than they started with. (But they will feel good doing so.) Contrary to those waving their arms, our company has invested millions in developing a way to reduce fuel use and GHG production as part of the production process. And we will do far more good in helping solve GHG reduction than any of the naysayers. Especially if we are successful at changing the way the other oil sands producers produce their oil. It’s a lot easier sleeping at night knowing you are making a physical difference (even if not winning on the public relations and Twitter fronts).

I don’t argue that manmade GHG’s are having an impact on climate, although there is great scientific disagreement on  what the specific consequences are right now. Nonetheless, if we want to solve it, there are smart ways to do it. But we have to stop thinking that it is someone else’s fault. The consumer needs to take responsibility. While we can show that we are reducing GHG production by more than 50% I doubt many consumers including those who protest our work can make the same statement.

Any solution that is not economically sustainable is not itself sustainable, because most consumers choose the most convenient and lowest cost answer. (This means subsidies can only work for a short while). Further if the right environmental solution is not economically superior, the developing nations will never adopt it. (We know that China has overtaken the US as a GHG producer and its energy needs are growing rapidly, India is also following in this path. ) In our opinion the long term answer is in conservation (because it is highly economic) and in technology, because only through improved technology can we produce energy using less fuel and GHG’s and develop new forms of energy that generate less GHG’s. Our company is at the forefront of both conserving fuel by making efficiency leaps, and in the investment in development of new technology to do so.

We are extremely proud of these achievements and happy to pass such a responsible legacy to our children.

Cameron Todd

Chief Executive Officer
US Oil Sands Inc.
Suite 950, 633 – 6’th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2Y5
Office:      403-233-9366
Cell:           403-630-6201
Fax:           403-290-0045

Monday, August 27, 2012


The sand in the hourglass is all down. The time we had to work with has dried up and washed away. The science is done and undeniable. The long-term, business-as-usual economic outlook is terrifying. And sorting out the politics, especially on the global scale, appears close to impossible. Nevertheless, we are here and we are called to carry on with courage and aplomb.

Global concentrations of carbon dioxide are reaching 400 ppm, marking a crossroads. We can act decisively and with urgency to rewire the globe with renewable energy and decarbonize the atmosphere, or we will face the mounting social, economic and environmental consequences of climate change: ever more severe droughts and flooding, ever more extreme weather (heat waves, hurricanes, derechos, etc.), food and water insecurity, famine, political unrest, infrastructure loss, ocean acidification, raging wildfires, disappearing glaciers and ice caps, diminishing biodiversity, ever declining ecosystem health, and the list goes on.

For me, this was why I joined the Coal Export Action at the Montana Capitol and was arrested alongside 6 others on August 13, 2012 in an act of civil disobedience to oppose the expansion of coal exports to China and India. This was why I was handcuffed and spent a night at the Lewis and Clark County jail, dressed in orange, my mind calm, knowing I was where I ought to be. As the renowned David Roberts of Grist so aptly put it, “The activist instinct to harry coal at every stage — mining, transport, export, power plant — is the right instinct. Coal is the enemy of the human race. It needs to be kept in the damn ground.”

If Montana’s Land Board were to approve Arch Coal’s permit to mine Otter Creek, it would trigger a massive expansion of coal mining in the Power River Basin. Before the action, as I considered the consequences of being arrested, the regional and local impacts weighed heavily on my conscious as well. From the mine to the plant overseas, exporting dirty coal from the United States to Asia is spewing pollution from beginning to end, leaving poor and disadvantaged communities to bear the cost and the burden. From extraction to burning, the process is abusive, violent and morally unacceptable.

So what can be done to stop the exports? The unfortunate reality is this: in the context of energy policy, the conventional channels for influencing political decisions have vanished as the fossil fuel industry’s stiff grip on our politics has strengthened in harmony with their record profits. As strategies of persuasion have failed us for decades, regrettably it has become necessary to exert our influence by breaking the law, in a civil, principled and dignified manner, to shine a light on our dimming democracy.

I fully did not want to go to Helena. I don’t imagine any of the other 22 arrested during the week of sit-ins wanted to be there either. But the hard truth is we were given no other choice. Just as the beauty of the world summons us to stand in awe before her, the urgency of our time has brought forth moral obligations to fulfill.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


As the industrial revolution has driven the rise of human health and wealth across the globe, concurrently the health and resiliency of our planet’s ecosystems have declined, dramatically. This is the crucial and central story of our time. And as we consider what the future may hold, we must accept that at some point soon, one or both of these trends will reverse trajectory.

If our species is able to discern this inevitability and gives birth to a new Ecological Age, we will begin to heal the Earth. If we take this fork in the road, global health will undoubtedly continue its rise, as we rewire the global economy with renewable energy and create governance systems to allocate resources like water, food, housing, education, and access to nature in ways that are equitable, just and sustainable. The process of human restoration and the healing of our nature-deficit disorder would begin. We would reinvent our human environments using cradle-to-cradle and biophilic design principles that would deliver us a future with zero waste. Right now, on a global scale, this vision for the future is within our reach.

However, if we allow the business-as-usual model to continue we will condemn ourselves to a future of declining health and wealth. The external costs imposed on society by climate change and fossil fuel extraction will multiply, the global water crisis will deepen, species extinction will continue to rise, our patterns of consumption will further degrade ecosystem health, and inevitably ecosystems will collapse, taking down civilization as we know it.

What I find most hopeful and uplifting about this moment in history is that collectively, the future is literally held in our hands. The future hinges on us, on our actions, right now. It depends on whether we will come together to face the music, or turn away to order another shot at the bar. The reason I’m so hopeful these days is because there’s no denying it -- dancing is joy.