The stars are lining up to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved. It is not enough that 35,000 people rallied in Washington DC, the largest ever US Climate Rally ever. It is not enough that protestors in Berlin and the UK are lashing out at Canada’s charm offensive to promote its environment damaging extraction of tar sands. It is not enough that a study by a professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln finds that potential leaks by the Keystone XL pipeline are underestimated. The pipeline will be built.
While the Sierra Club has decided to change its 120 year tactics that banned civil disobedience, this comes much too late to build the necessary momentum to stop this juggernaut. The President has gotten implicit cover from s State Department draft environmental impact statement. According to U.S. News on NBCNews.com
Construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would create "numerous" and "substantial" impacts on the environment, the State Department said Friday in a draft environmental impact statement. But the project is a better bet than any of the alternatives, it said in essentially clearing the project to go ahead.
The report concluded that the Canadian synthetic crude oil the pipeline is slated to transport into the U.S. produces 17 percent more greenhouse gases than natural crude oil already refined here. In addition, it said the construction phase of the project would result in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to about 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for a full year.
Sometimes it is best to sit back and regroup. The fact that there is not a groundswell of opposition in the cities and suburbs of America, mean much more work needs to be done to educate the population at large and to create a more substantial grassroots movement.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman hopes that the President will turn down the pipeline but does not think he will. In his piece “No to Keystone. Yes to Crazy” he states that
So I hope that Bill McKibben and his 350.org coalition go crazy. I’m talking chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy, because I think if we all make enough noise about this, we might be able to trade a lousy Keystone pipeline for some really good systemic responses to climate change. We don’t get such an opportunity often — namely, a second-term Democratic president who is under heavy pressure to approve a pipeline to create some jobs but who also has a green base that he can’t ignore. So cue up the protests, and pay no attention to people counseling rational and mature behavior. We need the president to be able to say to the G.O.P. oil lobby, “I’m going to approve this, but it will kill me with my base. Sasha and Malia won’t even be talking to me, so I’ve got to get something really big in return.”
Friedman is wrong if he believes that will give Republicans the idea this close up to the decision that somehow the President is extracting an ounce of flesh out of his base for approving the pipeline project. The mainstream media will simply caricature that event which will only attract a few and characterize them as a fringe.
The narrative that the Keystone XL pipeline project is a major job creator has not been sufficiently refuted. The latest report states
Construction of the proposed Project would generate temporary, positive socioeconomic impacts as a result of local employment, taxes, spending by construction workers, and spending on construction goods and services. Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2year construction period (of which, approximately 3,900 would be directly employed in construction activities).
Generally, the largest economic impacts of pipelines occur during construction rather than operations. Once in place, the labor requirements for pipeline operations are relatively minor. Operation of the proposed Project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed Pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts.
The narrative that the Keystone XL pipeline must be built because it will provide US energy security since it is a North American source of oil is at best disingenuous. The article by The Worlds environmental editor Peter Thomson, “Where Would Keystone XL’s Canadian Oil Go? And Does it Matter?”, presents a very balanced view.
Proponents contend that this oil will increase US “energy security” and decrease US reliance on other sources of foreign oil. They imply that the oil will go directly into the US market, without actually promising that it will. Opponents argue that it won’t improve our energy security at all, because both the composition of the oil and the location of the Gulf coast refineries it would serve make it highly likely that the refined products will end up going overseas.
In fact, both may be partly right. But that just begs a bigger question: What is energy security, and and how does or doesn’t this pipeline help us achieve it?
So yes, it might increase our energy security somewhat, but nowhere near the extent that supporters are suggesting.
But it also is likely that most of the actual hydrocarbons that flow through the refineries at the end of this proposed pipeline will end up being burned elsewhere, at least under current market conditions. So on that count, opponents may prove to be technically correct.
Still, the argument that the pipeline wouldn’t help improve US energy security because the oil would go elsewhere is a bit of a red herring.
The global oil market is massively complex, as is the US’s role in it (for instance, we are both an importer AND an exporter), and it generally doesn’t matter where any particular barrel of oil ends up. Ultimately, prices and availability (“energy security”) are largely a function of global supply and demand. The oil flowing through the new pipeline would increase global supply and so have a moderating influence on global prices and a positive impact on global availability.
And like I said, that’s good for “energy security,” at least in the short term.
But the more overarching—and more honest—argument against the pipeline is that this kind of short-term energy security for the US is not a good thing for the climate, and so for the country in the long-term.
Pragmatically speaking the environmental impact of building the pipeline is bad; however it may not be worth expelling unidirectional energies to stop it. Stopping it in this political climate with a population that is not completely engaged will be used to stymie other efforts. In the long run Americans must be educated that long term environmental damage will have a material effect on their lives. It will reduce their standard of living, their health, and ultimately their entire lifestyle. Sandy, Katrina, Heat Waves, and winter storms notwithstanding, Americans tend to have short memories. Climate change is a slow and non-linear process.
In the short term the White House must be put on notice. If the President ultimately support the pipeline, a gift to corporate America, middle class America must get something major in return. After all, even as the middle class wages and jobs are stagnant, Wall Street is at record levels, and corporate profits are at record levels. Force Republicans to pass the various job programs (stimuli) already proposed for infrastructure spending, investments in education, and alternative energy,
Let the President know that absent those concessions, middle class America would have realized that all the talk about middle class centric policies was just that talk. If no one is willing to standup for the middle class as corporate America continues to flourish on their backs, then a real peaceful disruptive movement will be necessary that affects ALL, but specifically the bottom line of those that are the real taker in America.