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The Keystone XL Pipeline

The Republicans in Congress are unanimously in favor of the Keystone pipeline. Even some Democrats support the project. Mitch McConnell said that it will be the first major bill they will put up for a vote and there are even plans afoot to rework existing legislation so that the final say would not fall to the President — in short, make the vote veto-proof. They really, really want this. When you see that kind of passion for something it’s reasonable to ask: “Why?”

Try as I may, I cannot find a single reason why it should be built. Some supporters claim it will create jobs. The best estimate of the OBM is that a mere 36 full-time, permanent new jobs will emerge. All other estimates, which range from 42,000 as the most optimistic to 3,000 as the most realistic (that one comes from the Canadian company that is behind the project), are for temporary construction jobs or ancillary work that accompanies the temporary workers. They cease as soon as the project is finished.

Now there’s nothing wrong with creating a couple thousand well-paid construction jobs, even if they are temporary ones — but don’t pretend that these represent long-term additions to the employment scene.

And don’t get too excited about those estimates. Even if the most wildly optimistic were to turn out to be right, they’d be just a drop in a bucket. Around 50,000 new jobs are being added every week — a result of a recovering economy which opponents of President Obama either ignore or misinterpret.[1]

Others claim that it will help make America energy independent. News flash: none of the oil will be extracted from American soil and none of it will be used in this country. It is all from the oil sands of Northern Alberta in Canada. It will be piped to lines in North Dakota and then south to Louisiana where it will be refined (in existing refineries with existing equipment and workers) and shipped to South East Asia, mainly China. None of this oil will be used here.

It is the dirtiest, most polluting fossil fuel adding disproportionate amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. It is expensive to extract from the oil sands and the process produces horrific amounts of pollutants.

Finally, the pipeline will leak or rupture. Of this you can be certain. When it does it will leak Canadian toxic sludge bound for China onto American farms and into American rivers and streams. It will be ugly.

So who wants it? Well, for one, the Koch brothers. They own a substantial hunk of the oil sands extraction companies in Alberta. For another, the major oil companies who refine the oil and sell it to their Asian customers. And, of course, the Republican (and Democratic) members of Congress who are so indebted to these special interests that they are now, basically, owned by them. Lastly, the Canadian oil barons whose finances are tied up in this unholy mess.

It will almost certainly pass in Congress. Obama has indicated he will veto it. Then we watch to see what develops.



[1] Arthur Laffer (the developer of Reagan’s trickle-down theory, aka “voodoo economics”) made the Laffable claim that the reason for the recovery is that the impact of Obama’s Stimulus package has finally run out. Why Stanford hasn’t revoked his Ph.D. is a mystery.

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