As the House of Representative prepares to take a purely political vote on the risky Keystone XL pipeline, the country is learning of a new “reward” that comes with such a project thanks to the tar sands bitumen refining process: giant piles of toxic waste.

The New York Times reported two weekends ago about a mountain of petroleum coke, or petcoke, that has been growing in Detroit since November and today Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) joined a press call today to discuss the issue affecting his hometown and constituents. “The petroleum coke mountain building up along the Detroit River is an eyesore to put it mildly. Not only for Detroit citizens but for our neighbors in Windsor, Canada as well. Detroit has an unquestionable right to clean air, clean water and environmental safety and I am determined to promote and protect those rights,” Representative Conyers said.

Petroleum coke is the dirtier-than-coal byproduct of tar sands bitumen refining, which is exported to countries like China to be burned for fuel. In order to protect our health, EPA limits petcoke combustion in the US, so Koch Carbon and other companies are shipping it to places with the lowest environmental standards.

Mr. Conyers continued, “We are trying to establish that Detroit should not be a dumping ground for this byproduct and I am not willing to leave petroleum coke unregulated. If we do nothing, communities around the country will be experiencing what Detroit is encountering now. They need to wake up to this problem now before they wake up with their own pile of petcoke.”

Others joined Mr. Conyers on the call with press to urge other members of Congress to stop playing politics while real communities are already suffering with the consequences of transporting and refining tar sands bitumen.

Amy Schaffer, with Nebraska Easement Action Team (NEAT) and whose family operates a ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska said, I stand against the export KXL pipeline with the Detroit and Texas communities who will deal with the toxic effects of the refinement of tarsands and the byproduct of petcoke being dumped into their communities on a daily basis. We cannot standby and allow foreign corporations to abandon their toxic piles of carcinogens in our communities risking our land and water, ultimately affecting the quality of our food supply and the health of the American people.

Detroit may be one of the first cities in the United States to have petcoke piling up in their backyard, but the New York Times article points out that they will not be alone long. A study from Oil Change International finds that, Keystone XL will entrench heavy oil refining and petcoke production on the Gulf Coast for the next 40 years for shipment overseas. Even more evidence that Keystone XL, and tar sands development more widely, is all risk and no reward.

“Keystone XL will perpetuate the filthy trade in petcoke that is making coal fired power generation in China and India dirtier and cheaper. Without Keystone XL, Gulf Coast refiners are likely to reduce their coking activity in favor of refining discounted domestic light oil,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director of Oil Change International.

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