Congressional Republicans are planning to make another public push for President Obama to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built across the U.S.-Canadian border, but critics are adamant that the project won’t create thousands of jobs and will wreak havoc on the planet.
The project is a double win for the U.S. because, Keystone supporters contend, it will create jobs and decrease American dependence upon foreign energy.
Just this week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that the logic behind the pipeline is “overwhelming.”
“I remain an optimist that notwithstanding politics, that when something’s so clearly in everybody’s interests – including our interests as Canadians and the national interest of the United States – I’m of the view that it has to be approved,” he said.
Noting that businesses and much of the labor movement supports the project, Harper added, “My view is that you don’t take no for an answer.”
In March, the U.S. State Department published an analysis showing the project would support an estimated 42,100 jobs. But Keystone critics reject that number.
“The KXL Pipeline may create at the most 2,000 jobs during a year or two while it’s being constructed. In terms of long-term, permanent jobs it will be creating something between 50-100 jobs,” said Jeremy Brecher, co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, an organization that claims to provide “a community for those in the labor and sustainability movements and their allies who care about economic justice, ecology and equality.”
He added, “So the idea that this is somehow a major part of the solution to our terrible unemployment problem, it’s hard to describe it as something other than a cruel hoax.”
Keystone supporters point back to the State Department estimate to back up their claim of at least 20,000 construction jobs. They also admit that the permanent jobs will be limited, but say that shouldn’t be a deterrent.
“The president is right. The same study at the State Department says 50-100 permanent jobs,” said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., in a WND interview just last month. “Keep in mind this is a construction infrastructure job. So when the construction is done … there will be minimal permanent employees. But go on a bridge and tell me how many permanent employees are on that bridge that was finished right now.”
“The president, in his own stimulus package, was advocating for these type of projects to create jobs, but now when it’s the pipeline, he uses it to criticize,” Terry said.
For Brecher, who believes the pipeline will harm the environment, not all construction projects are created equal. He said comparing Keystone to President Obama’s infrastructure goals is wrongheaded.
“What we get with infrastructure jobs are a reduction in our gas explosions and our water and sewer line breakage, and we get something that’s good for us. With the pipeline, what we get is more devastating climate change,” he said.
Energy independence is also a divisive issue in this debate. Rep. Terry said the amount of oil coming from Canada would offset all imports from Venezuela. But Brecher claims that’s simply not true.
“There was a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal whose headline was, ‘U.S. Refiners Don’t Care If Keystone Gets Built.’ And it says, ‘There’s so much oil sloshing around the U.S. from its own wells that refiners don’t need lots more heavy crude from the north to keep busy,’” said Brecher, who also asserts that a lot of any additional crude would simply be refined in the U.S. and then exported overseas.
“The idea that this is somehow going to replace oil that’s coming from foreign countries just doesn’t fit with the facts as reported by the Wall Street Journal,” he said.
One feather in the cap of Keystone supporters is that several labor unions have embraced the pipeline and job-creating potential they believe it provides. Brecher said the labor community is split, since the nurses’ union and some transportation unions remain opposed.
“The labor movement is divided, and I think you can tell who’s looking to the past and who is looking to the future,” he said.
The two sides of this debate agree on very little, except how Keystone became a focal point of the larger energy debate. Rep. Terry said environmental extremism that doesn’t match up with the science is pressuring President Obama to hold off on approving the pipeline. Brecher said environmental concerns are the trigger for this fight, but for good reason.
“People like world-leading climatologist Jim Hansen and a lot of other people threw it up and said, ‘This is really a place to draw the line with those who are destroying our climate, destroying our environment, and claiming that they’re doing so in the name of creating jobs when actually they’re just after more profits for the most rapacious energy corporations,” Brecher said.
Brecher said the fight is not just about the environment. He said shifting to different fuels will not only help our atmosphere but boost our economy. He also claimed climate change is responsible for destructive storms like last October’s Superstorm Sandy and believes the damage will only get worse without meaningful change.
“Our whole economy is going to look like a place that was hit by Hurricane Sandy if we don’t start drawing the line against the greenhouse gases that are creating climate catastrophe and start building an alternate economy, which by the way will be a much more jobs-intensive economy,” he said.