WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has seized upon an unusual environmental aesthetic to oppose the Keystone pipeline claiming that construction would disturb “high quality night skies” and the “cultural soundscapes” along national trails located miles away from the cross-country route.
The objection from the Interior Department is included among comments submitted to the State Department for its consideration on whether to approve the project that will carry oil in an underground pipe from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Willie R. Taylor, director of the Interior Department’s office of environmental policy, argued in the objection that the ambiance of a night sky would be polluted by artificial light illuminating construction sites and that noise would disturb wildlife.
“The cumulative effects of the project could adversely impact the quality of the night skies and the overall photic environment,” Taylor said.
The Colorado Observer first reported in May that the Interior Department had created an agency under the auspice of protecting the night skies from bright lights and was already using this argument to oppose coal and fracking operations.
The initial government program to protect night skies began during the Clinton administration in 1999. It evolved into an entire unit of the Park Service in 2011 called the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division with staff located in Fort Collins and Lakewood, Colorado, as well as in Washington, D.C.
The federal government says that dark nights in national parks are a strong economic driver that brings thousands of visitors to participate in star gazing programs.
Now the Interior Department says that historical trails located miles away from the project would be impacted, including pathways along the Niobrara National Scenic River.
“Light and noise from projects can often affect natural resources located many miles from their source. As a result, protecting the acoustic environment and night sky resources often involves assessing potential impacts from projects not located immediately adjacent to department managed properties,” Taylor said.
“Anthropogenic light and sounds from the project has the potential to impact the acoustic and photic environments of the (federal government) properties. In addition, cultural soundscapes and visitor experiences could be impacted,” Taylor said.
Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, questioned the reasoning behind the Interior Department’s objections and said the government has become too powerful if it can stop energy development because it creates light.
“They must have been searching high and low to cook up this phony way to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline,” Kish said. “The good Lord said ‘Let there be light,’ but the government says ‘Let there be darkness.’”
“This administration likes to operate in darkness,” Kish added.