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Pipelines Leak and Planes Crash

Don't Let Lobbyists Whittle Away our Safety

Regulations, and government intervention in general, can get a bad rap, perennially being blamed for strangling business and stifling innovation with miles of red tape. Dealing with these extra hurdles and roadblocks can certainly be frustrating for the individual, especially with the often kafka-esque construction of our government apparatus, but the importance of executing well-designed regulation is hard to overstate. This week we’ll look at two examples, one past one present, highlighting the stakes of government regulation, and the consequences of getting it wrong. Last week, the Keystone pipeline had worst on-land oil spill in US history, spewing over 14,000 barrels of oil into rural Kansas. Aerial photos show the land stained inky black, and a nearby river polluted. Investigators have yet to identify the cause of the leak, nor has any timeline been given for the completion of clean-up and repairs. Tragedies like this spill and the resulting environmental catastrophe shouldn’t be a surprise, in fact, they were likely an inevitable consequence of an energy system that puts profits over people. with loosened regulations and the pipeline operating in the first place. When the Keystone pipeline was originally proposed, TC Energy, the owner of Keystone, had assured everyone that the pipeline was a safer, cheaper and more environmentally friendly option for fossil fuel development. Yet subsequent independent analyses, including by the EPA, criticized the impact analysis suggesting that these claims were based on shoddy numbers and greatly underestimated the observed safety and environmental record of the pipeline. Despite this poor record, TC Energy successfully lobbied regulators to allow over-pressurization of the pipeline to increase oil supply, and their own profits. Assurances were once again given that the pipeline had been thoroughly inspected, and yet here we are with thousands of barrels of oil once again staining our landscape. Now the rush is on to re-open Keystone and get the oil flowing, to prevent prices rising at the pump, will corners once again be cut, and profits put over people and the environment or will regulators stand firm and do a thorough job this time? In contrast to the poor safety record of the pipeline industry, air travel has been super safe for several decades. Part of this safety record stems from the multiple layers of redundancy built into the system. One would hope that the success of a safety-oriented industry would make people think twice about loosening regulations, instead we find airlines are lobbying the FAA to change their regulations allowing for single-pilot flights. Currently, safety regulations require two pilots for most commercial aircraft, allowing one pilot to take over if the other is incapacitated, a scenario which occurred earlier just this year. The proposal is to start with cargo flights as a “test-case” and then transition to single-pilot flights in passenger jets. Airlines are claiming that the economics are driving this move, and that there won’t be any major safety concerns, eerily reminiscent of TC Energy’s own assurances around the Keystone pipeline. Whenever profits are privatized and costs socialized, we see the same playbook implemented. Claim that in fact the profits will be shared by all and downplay any potential costs. Just as it was easy to predict the catastrophe of the keystone pipeline spill, it’s equally easy to see what the end result of loosening FAA regulations will be: five or ten years from now, we’ll read about tragedies where a plane crashes with no survivors when the lone pilot became incapacitated. The time to prevent such tragedies is now, before we set off further down the path of profits over people. The people want government to intervene on climate/environment, and they want to be safe when they travel. We cannot let our health and safety be sacrificed for big bonuses, or future holiday seasons will be marked by oil spills and plane crashes. Yet as we’ve covered time and again at #DSOT, consistent favoring of business interests by our law makers is no coincidence, it’s part and parcel of the system. If we want a government that works for the people, we need not just political, but economic power. So join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity, making sure our government fulfills it’s promise in providing for the general welfare. #DSOT #UPM

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