By Good-b Associate Editor, John Bain
A few months ago, it seemed like President Obama had made himself clear on the question of the Keystone XL pipeline: No.
His response was precipitated by a wave of protest from environmentalists – for Obama, a key voting bloc. The president’s heart seems to be in it this time – a few days ago he personally lobbied members of Congress to oppose the pipeline.
But we have to keep in mind this is an election year. With a fierce race ahead of him, will he hold to his promise to keep Keystone XL from being built?
I’m not so sure. The issue on everyone’s mind right now is the economy, and it’s easy for Big Oil types to hawk Keystone XL as a panacea for our joblessness woes, with some supporters claiming the pipeline could directly create 20,000 jobs.
Never mind that this claim is probably false – this is politics, where appearances matter above all else. It’s extremely easy to paint the Obama administration’s opposition as a typical anti-business Democratic policy. In fact, to many voters it might make Obama look weak for supporting the abstract notion of environmentalism over the very real concerns of hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans.
Even more worrisome is the fact that the political and cultural winds of change seem to be favoring the Pipeline more and more. As a child of the ‘90s, it makes my heart heavy to report that Bill Clinton himself is endorsing Keystone – and that’s a voice I, as a young voter, might consider actually listening to. GOP nominee-apparent Mitt Romney is a supporter as well, and don’t doubt for a moment that if he gets the nomination he’ll make the pipeline a central issue on which to challenge the president.
A recent Pew poll even showed that 66 percent of Americans support Keystone XL… and also stronger environmental legislation. May I remind you that there have not been two more antithetical concepts since… ever
From a purely philosophical, environmentalist standpoint, the proposed pipeline is incredibly problematic. Tar sands oil production is extremely emissions intensive, and if Keystone XL were to be constructed it would ramp up this destructive industry considerably. To people who are already environmentalists, this is the only argument that matters; they’re already convinced Keystone XL would literally be the most catastrophic thing to ever happen to the planet.
However, I think there’s also a solid economic case to be made against the construction of the pipeline. This is the line of reasoning the president should use in debates to gain crossover appeal.
First of all, you need to consider the issue in context. The pipeline is supposed to transfer almost a million barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas. Currently, Canada is our top oil supplier. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently went on a trip to China to discuss importation of Canadian oil to Asia.
Here the argument that Keystone XL will actually raise gas prices gains some cachet. As it stands, Canada has no easy way to get oil to the growing Asian economies. If Keystone XL is constructed, all of a sudden our largest trading partner will be spoiled for choice, with dozens of other nations knocking on its door to get a slice of the oil pie. Once this glut of demand happens, Canadian oil interests will be free to raise prices. Why wouldn’t they?
It’s natural for Canada to want this corridor through the United States so it can participate more fully in a world marketplace that is increasingly non-U.S.-centric. So it follows that Keystone XL would be a great thing for Canada. Not so much for the United States, where gas is already fast approaching five dollars a gallon.
Let’s go from global Realpolitik back to philosophy, though. There’s yet another reason why Keystone XL will be un-American: the construction of the pipeline would involve the seizure of large tracts of land from private citizens under the doctrine of eminent domain. Where do you think the land for 2,000+ miles of pipeline is going to come from? Activist judges have been speaking out against this sort of abuse for some time, but the fight is ongoing.
What’s more American than a bunch of Texan homesteaders fighting to keep their land? For that matter, what’s more American than that vast, varied stretch of land that’s about to have its ecosystem(s) unjustifiably ruined by a giant lead pipe? Answer: nothing. Come on, America – I know it sounds tempting, but Keystone XL is the worst idea this continent has seen in a century.
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John Bain is Good-b’s senior Green Blogger and Associate Editor of Good-b.