Are Arguments Against Keystone Valid?



Now that the House of Representatives has voted in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, Congress is waiting for the presumed veto from President Barack Obama. The vote this week had anti-pipeline activists as vocal as ever, and subsequently saw pro-pipeline groups trying to tear apart their arguments. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce weighed in. So let’s take a look at whether the arguments against the pipeline are valid.

The climate angle

The first, most obvious argument against the pipeline is its environmental impact. The Keystone XL pipeline will certainly have an impact, right? According to the Wall Street Journal, the pipeline, which would span six U.S. states, would move up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day, mainly from Canada’s oil sands to Steele City, Neb., and connect with other pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries. North Dakota may produce as many as 100,000 barrels of the oil.

One of the main reasons Obama will veto the bill supporting the extension to the pipeline is because the project failed to pass his environmental impact test. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency wrote a letter to the State Department at the beginning of February, saying that the 1,179-mile pipeline would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions. But TransCanada has rebutted the EPA’s claims. “We don’t believe any single pipeline causes production of oil to accelerate,” TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said on a conference call, via the Wall Street Journal. Girling said that the EPA’s claims weren’t based on the research that’s been done, including the State Department’s environmental impact statement.

In January of last year, the State Department’s environmental impact statement concluded that Keystone XL wouldn’t affect carbon emissions because oil companies would develop the tar sands whether or not the pipeline is built. While those against the pipeline say that falling oil prices would stop those investments from happening, Bloomberg notes that already 14 new Canadian oil sands projects are scheduled to start next year “with a combined capacity of 266,000 barrels a day.” According to Bloomberg Business, that’s 36% more than began in 2014, and many of these projects are paid for and those that are only partially paid for wouldn’t stop midway. Canada isn’t seeing any decrease in production, so perhaps it could meet the environmental impact levels the State Department project regardless of the pipeline.

The economy angle

Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager and environmentalist, wrote in a Huffington Post column about TransCanada’s “talking points” for the project not being factual. He writes that TransCanada needs to build this pipeline through the U.S. in order to compete in the world market. He said the $8 billion project would only provide 35 permanent jobs.

In a piece on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s blog, Sean Hackbarth critiqued Steyer’s argument, saying that he is ignoring “the thousands of construction jobs and local economic development the pipeline will create.” Hackbarth notes that research from Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute found that the project would result in over $5.7 billion in new economic activity, over 42,000 person years of new employment, and over $217 million in additional state and local taxes in Oklahoma and Texas.

And these temporary jobs should not be dismissed, according to Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), who wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, “construction work is, by nature, temporary and that millions of construction workers lead middle-class lives, own homes and put their children through college by moving from one union construction job to the next.”

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