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SEHN Warns that the Keystone Pipeline Violates Rights of Present and Future Generations

Science & Environmental Health Network Warns that the Keystone Pipeline Violates Inalienable Rights of Present and Future Generations

U.S. Department of State Hearing Grand Island, Nebraska

April 18th, 2013

Statement of Carolyn Raffensperger

Ames, Iowa—The Keystone Pipeline poses a threat to our common heritage and national security because it puts at risk fresh water, the climate, and the health of people.  Air, water, climate, and other environmental necessities are the foundation of national security and inalienable rights held by both Present and Future Generations.

The role of government is two-fold:

(1) to serve as the trustee of the commonwealth and common health for Present and Future Generations and 2) to protect rights.

The right to a clean and healthy environment is the basis for the rights of life and liberty. It is inalienable.  It is a right of Present Generations and Future Generations, or posterity.The Pipeline decision will be made in the face of uncertainty. Cost benefit analysis is not the appropriate decision making tool because it is not a guarantor of rights.  The government’s responsibility is to take precautionary measures and protect the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy climate. Present Generations have a responsibility to pass on a healthy and intact world to Future Generations. In order to fulfill that responsibility the pipeline must be denied.
1) The Role of Government is to serve as the trustee of the commonwealth and common health for present and future generations and to protect rights

The Mission of the State Department is to:

Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system.

According to the State Department water is a fundamental cornerstone to maintaining global peace, security and prosperity.

In addition, the world community must work collaboratively to slow, stop, and reverse greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a way that promotes sustainable economic growth, increases energy security, and helps nations deliver greater prosperity for their people.

These statements about the State Department’s mission and policies carry with them an expression of what government is for—what it is meant to be. The primary responsibility is not to foster the economy, or promote the balance of trade; it is to meet the needs of the people and to deliver prosperity. Prosperity is defined as thriving and flourishing and cannot be reduced to mere economics. A morbidly ill wealthy person is not prosperous.

This mission can be stated another way—that government’s primary responsibility is to protect rights and to serve as a steward of the commonwealth and common health of Present and Future Generations. Without a stable climate and adequate fresh water there is no prosperity which includes health and well-being, and the fundamental needs of living beings cannot be met.

2) The right to a clean and healthy environment is the basis for the rights of life and liberty. It is inalienable. It is a right of Present Generations and Future Generations, our posterity.

The U.S. Constitution was established to guarantee the basic rights of people and the basic responsibilities of government so that both Present Generations and Future Generations (posterity in the U.S. Constitution) had the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The State Department, as an arm of the U.S. government, has an obligation to Future Generations to protect the prosperity, liberty, and tranquility owed to them.  The only decision that can guarantee those inherent rights for us and posterity is to reject the Keystone Pipeline.

3) The decision will be made in the face of uncertainty. Cost benefit analysis is not the appropriate decision making tool because it is not a guarantor of rights.  The government’s responsibility is to take precautionary measures and protect the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy climate.

While some economic and environmental outcomes of the pipeline are not foreseeable, many are not. In the face of scientific uncertainty, prudence requires that the State Department take action to prevent harm to the common wealth and health of the United States. The economic benefits to the people of the United States are far outweighed by the probable environmental harms of water contamination and climate destabilization. If the decision was only to be made on the basis of cost benefit analysis, the outcome would be the same. The small financial benefits are vastly outweighed by the environmental threats.

However, the other rights enshrined in the Constitution and the U.N Declaration of Human Rights are based on a right to existence and require the right to breathe air and drink water. Therefore, cost benefit analysis is not the appropriate decision making tool.  If you deny one person the right to drink clean water or breathe clean air, you have denied a fundamental right. Rights are not subject to cost benefit analysis.

The State Department must protect the fundamental right of Present and Future generations to inherit a habitable planet. It must assume the mantle of its responsibility as trustee of the commons that are necessary to fulfill that right. These rights include but are not limited to clean air and clean water as well as a stable climate.

Deny the Pipeline.

Carolyn Raffensperger, M.A., J.D.Executive DirectorScience and Environmental Health Network