September 28 2011
Political posturing or real progress? That's the debate about the Keystone Pipeline
Carrie L. Lukas
Politicians often have dual motives when they advance policy proposals. Their core principles may support lowering taxes, but the timing and venue of announcements are planned for maximum political impact. That's reality.
Yet, there are other times when politicians can advance their goals but cannot also win accolades from supporters. They may even face criticism. That's when we get a glimpse of the real character of a political leader. Are they willing to advance their cause even when there's a political price to pay?
Today, the Obama administration has the opportunity to advance key priorities. The president talks passionately about the need for job creation, and protecting the environment has been a pillar of his presidency. His administration can move forward on both goals by approving the Keystone Pipeline, which will connect the Canadian oil sands to refineries in the United States. However, the administration will have to do so despite outcries from the president's Hollywood buddies and more extreme environmental base.
Consider this project from the perspective of the administration's desperate attempts to stimulate job creation. The president recently announced a new job-creation package, which will empower the federal government to spend nearly another half-trillion dollars in the name of encouraging hiring. This is a follow-up to the roughly $800 billion stimulus passed earlier in the president's term, which failed to lower the unemployment rate.
The Department of Energy is preparing to approve a taxpayer-backed loan for $1.2 billion to the Mojave Solar Project, which it claims will lead to the creation of 900 American jobs. That comes out to a cost for taxpayers of more than $1.3 million per job created. Certainly, the administration hopes to recoup that money, but as we've just witnessed with an earlier $500 million government loan to now-bankrupt Solyandra, these government investments don't always work out. Yet, this is how desperate the administration is to add workers to the employment rolls.
In contrast, the Keystone pipeline won't cost taxpayers a dime. This will be a $7 billion private-sector investment, which will create an estimated 20,000 construction jobs and support hundreds of thousands of other jobs. By increasing the amount of oil that comes from Canada and can be refined into usable fuel here in the United States, this project will also become an important, reliable source of energy for our country. Ultimately, this will help relieve pressure on our rising gas and energy prices.
No one disputes the economic value of this project, which is also expected to generate billions in revenue for the government. Yet opponents of the project portray it as a battle between economic development and environmental protection. The message from those environmental activists picketing the White House is that giving a green light to the Keystone Pipeline is to cave in to economic greed and sacrifice the cause of preserving the health of the Earth.
Yet this is a false picture of the environmental impact of the Keystone Pipeline. In fact, when considered in the real world, in which Canada's oil sands are going to be developed one way or another, allowing the United States to move forward with development is a win for the environment.
That doesn't mean that there are no risks with transporting oil (there always are), but surely environmentalists understand that it is far better to have the United States handle the project rather than another less environmentally conscious country. A variety of agencies has been evaluating the proposed construction and working with the Keystone Pipeline project sponsors to identify measures that can be taken proactively to mitigate damage from any potential future leak and minimize disruption caused by the pipeline's construction. China, Canada's other most likely potential partner, is unlikely to give such matters nearly as much attention.
Out-of-touch environmentalists and Hollywood activists may prefer for the U.S. to take a stand against oil development on principle, even if that has costs for the environment. Yet the American people would prefer that the administration take a more practical approach. The Keystone Pipeline is not a tug of war between the environment and job creation. It is a win-win for both. And it's a win that the administration and this country sorely need.