Keystone XL may have "Minimal" environmental impact but the possibility of a pipeline leak is an essential consideration.

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Kalamazoo River, W. Saugatuck, MI, author: Terry Johnston via

Shortly before the U.S. State Department released an environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline to conclude that the environmental impact of the pipeline would be “minimal,” a pipeline in East Texas leaked 550 barrels (20,000 gallons) of crude oil into local waterways. Crude oil is different from bitumen (tar sands) oil, but the frequency of pipeline leaks for either one is an essential consideration.

Related: Civil Disobedience against Keystone XL

The Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek, Michigan, is still cleaning up the massive tar sands oil spill from two years ago; the oil is so heavy that it sank to coat a 40-acre swath of the river bottom. The spill two years ago leaked one million gallons of tar sands oil into the river, affecting the river ecosystem and the sensitive wetlands surrounding it.

The question of pipeline spills is not “if,” but “when” it happens. The concern that the tar sands oil, when the pipeline inevitably leaks, will impact the Ogallala Aquifer, must be taken seriously. Through this environmental review, the State Department has essentially taken the position that the pipeline will have a minimal impact because blocking the pipeline won’t stop the tar sands oil from getting to market, because somebody else will buy it and transport it in lieu of the Keystone XL. As illustrated by the Kalamazoo River disaster, tar sands oil is especially hard to clean up, and therefore especially damaging to river and wetland ecosystems. By rejecting the pipeline, the United States could have a greater impact than is recognized in the State Department’s analysis. The State Department has essentially written it off as unnecessary to make a decision on, but if the United States were to lead the way in rejecting this potentially disastrous carbon source, perhaps other nations could follow suit. It is entirely unreasonable to shake our heads and suggest that since “everybody else is doing it” there is nothing we can do.

The rally in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, February 17, gathered over 30,000 activists against the Keystone XL pipeline. Our citizens are serious, so why can’t the government get serious on climate?

Why not send a message to the rest of the world? Why not lead the way on climate? Maybe other countries do, indeed, have higher carbon emissions than we do, but that is no reason to give up.