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Critics Keep Distorting Facts on Keystone XL

J. Mijin Cha

Credit: Tarsandsaction FlickrYesterday, in a rare win against dirty fossil fuels, the Obama Administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The level of backlash against the decision shows that the Administration was correct in its actions to stand up for workers and the environment.

The Washington Post editorial board criticized the Administration’s decision in an op-ed titled “Obama’s Keystone Pipeline Rejection is Hard to Accept.” Actually, it’s not. It’s very easy to accept a decision that rejects a project that would have created bad, temporary jobs while threatening ecologically sensitive areas. The Post claimed that there was no substantive reason to reject the pipeline because there would be limited adverse environmental impacts and any jobs created would help during our economic recovery. Put simply, these assertions are false. Don’t believe me?  Ask Sally Kohn at Fox News, who writes “Six Reasons Keystone XL was a Bad Deal All Along.”

The negative environmental impact of the pipeline is clear. A TransCanada whistleblower detailed how the company chooses profits over safety. The part of the pipeline that has already been built in North Dakota spilled 20,000 gallons last year—and it’s only a year old. Nebraska’s Republican Governor wrote a letter to the Administration asking them to reject the permit because of the threat to the Ogallala aquifer, which provides crucial drinking water to residents and farmers. Residents in Michigan who live near a tar sands pipeline are suffering negative health effects from that pipeline spill over a year ago. Not to mention the incredibly destructive nature of tar-sand mining itself.

As for the jobs, TransCanada’s numbers are hyper-inflated. In their original application to the State Department in 2008, they indicated a “peak workforce of approximately 3,500 to 4,200” temporary construction workers. That number has some how become 20,000 and more. In fact, the only independent analysis of the jobs potential shows between 500-1400 temporary construction jobs. This is not to diminish the need for job creation, quite the opposite, in fact.  We do need jobs, but we need good, permanent jobs that will provide stability and long-term employment, like those in renewable energy.

As for critics that claim we need the oil, most of the oil was likely to be exported to foreign markets where the price of oil is higher, thereby boosting the profits of TransCanada. Indeed, a recent report showed how the pipeline would not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil and would, instead, provide an export market for Canadian tar sands producers.

Finally, this is really about whether or not we start to fight back against big corporations. The big winner if the pipeline is built is TransCanada and not the average American. The Governor of Nebraska, whose state the pipeline would run through, asked for it to be rejected. The job creation potential is limited and not worth the environmental damage that will be done. Do we keep making these same mistakes or do we start to correct our course and invest in projects that create permanent jobs in the U.S. and also bring us closer to energy independence?

Republican House members forced the decision to be made when they held unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday hostage in exchange for a decision on Keystone. Rejecting that type of political game playing is as important as rejecting the dirty pipeline.