The State Department just came out with its latest report on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. The report finds that the pipeline’s construction would create almost 2,000 jobs that last for two years and would support more than 40,000 jobs. The report further finds that the pipeline likely would not harm the environment when considered relative to what will happen if the pipeline is not built. Yet, even given these clear facts in favor of green lighting the pipeline, don’t expect an approval in the near future.
The State Department deserves considerable praise for such a fair and unbiased report. Essentially the report focuses on three aspects: jobs, environmental impacts from the pipeline, and what would happen if the pipeline were not built. The findings, taken together, make clear to anybody with an open mind that the pipeline should be approved.
On the jobs front, the report estimates the pipeline’s construction would result in 3,900 jobs over two years. The additional spending on construction material would push the job gains up to about 42,000 counting jobs building the pipeline, selling materials for the pipeline, and those supported by the spending of people in the first two categories. Considering how the president claims that jobs are his top priority, a project that would create 42,000 jobs according to the administration’s own study while using no government money would seem to be a good deal.
The environmental risks from the pipeline were deemed to be minimal by a fair reading of the report. The route of the pipeline has been shifted since the initial application was filed and now avoids the most environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska that had raised concerns from many environmentalists. There are still risks of spills from the pipeline, but the report puts those in perspective relative to other ways to transport the oil. A similar approach is taken to the impact of the pipeline on climate change.
When environmentalists first tried to block the Keystone XL Pipeline, their goal in blocking the pipeline was to have the oil stay deep in the Canadian tar sands where it lies now. In the five years of dithering over the pipeline by the Obama Administration, that goal has not been fulfilled. Instead, the Canadians moved full speed ahead on bringing up the oil. For now, a lot of the oil is moved by rail. In the future, if the Keystone XL Pipeline is not built, it appears likely that a new pipeline to Canada’s west coast and rail cars will send the same amount of oil to a mix of U.S. refineries and China.
With the State Department correctly admitting that the oil will be mined and refined regardless of whether President Obama approves the Keystone XL Pipeline, then the impact of the pipeline on climate change due to emissions from using these fossil fuels becomes negligible. If anything, emissions should be somewhat lower if the oil is refined and used in the U.S. with our environmental regulation than if it travels to China.
Similarly, environmental risks from hypothetical future pipeline spills need to be weighed relative to what is likely to happen if the oil travels by an alternative pipeline across Canada or by train south into the U.S. Given that there have been six train accidents within the past year with trains carrying oil it seems clear that not building the Keystone Pipeline involves significant environmental risks.
The State Department considered all of these factors and basically called it a tie for the environment. In other words, while the Keystone XL Pipeline might be a negative on environmental issues compared to an imaginary world where the Canadian oil would stay in the ground, in the real world where it is going to be transported, refined, and burned no matter what, the Keystone XL Pipeline is at least as good as the alternative outcomes.
Even though the evidence is clear, both State and White House spokesmen made clear this report did not mean a decision was near, that more input would be sought, and that deliberations toward a decision would continue. Democrats cannot afford to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline anytime soon. Many environmentalists have made defeating the Keystone Pipeline their top priority and if the Democrats want to continue to collect funds and votes from environmentalists, they need to at least delay any decision.
Republicans should insist on a Keystone Pipeline approval as part of some other deal in the coming months. Possible vehicles could be the debt ceiling, immigration reform, or extending unemployment benefits. Whatever the mechanism used, approving the Keystone Pipeline is clearly good economic policy and neutral on the environmental policy side. Republicans should not only insist on approval as part of the President’s commitment to job creation, but also to remove the Democrat’s ability to fundraise and collect votes from environmentalists who are still trying to influence the decision in favor of a denial.
The State Department report makes clear what the correct decision is. If President Obama does not approve the pipeline, and soon, nobody should ever believe his claims to have job creation as a priority. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not acceptable when making national policy.
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