Environment, and Wrong for Energy Future
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By Laverne Williams
The President's announcement on November 10 to delay a decision on the
Keystone XL pipeline until a new environmental impact report is
conducted is the right decision. The pipeline is a bad idea on so many
levels. As a businessman who grew up near the Ogallala aquifer, I care
deeply about jobs and the economy, our natural environment and the
long-term energy future of our country. At first, one might assume that
the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline might help with all of these
issues. But looking more closely, it becomes clear that "KXL" is a dirty
and dangerous step backward.
First, let's talk about jobs.
As a longtime businessman in Houston, I feel I know a thing or two about
job creation, infrastructure investment and profitability. On
business-case grounds alone, it's clear that without significant
governmental subsidies, and without calling on taxpayers to foot the
bills for spills, land and water contamination, and medical fees, the
project would prove financially untenable. And while the American
Petroleum Institute and TransCanada say the pipeline will create 20,000
direct jobs in the United States, the latest report by Cornell's Global
Labor Institute demonstrates that that job figure is greatly inflated.
Moreover, the report shows how the project can actually be a job killer
because it will raise fuel prices in Midwestern states.
How much attention is that analysis receiving very little compared to
the TransCanada states, which are repeated endlessly in ads.
Let's talk about energy security.
Everyone agrees that our energy future is a top concern. At first you
might think that oil from Canada - even dirty oil like that derived from
the Alberta tar sands - would be a boon to U.S. energy security. But it
turns out that this pipeline is meant to serve an export market in the
gulf. One of the primary buyers of KXL crude would be Valero, which told
its investors that its business plan relies on expanding the export of
diesel to Europe and South America.
Let's talk about the environment.
It's my practice to consider how business and environmental needs can
work together. That practice is at the heart of my architectural firm.
As a boy who grew up near the Ogallala aquifer, I value our
environmental heritage and understand its importance. As a businessman,
I know some risks just aren't worth alleged gains - and this is one of
them. If the Keystone XL has a major burst, we don't have a second
aquifer to serve the millions of Americans who rely on the Ogalla for
drinking water and irrigation. Haven't we experienced enough devastating
Let's talk about landowner rights.
In order to route this pipeline, TransCanada needs to be given the power
of eminent domain. In other words, the Texas government has to decide
that the pipeline is for the common good of Texans and the company
deserves to be able to force private landowners to sign easements or
face condemnation proceedings. Yet the benefits of KXL accrue mainly to
TransCanada and a few refinery companies. As we've seen, it doesn't
create more than a few thousand temporary jobs, doesn't enhance our
energy security, and threatens our water.
Finally, let's talk about our future.
It's increasingly clear we need to act on what businesses committed to
environmental sustainability, scientists, civil society, and the planet
are telling us about our energy future. Now is the time to switch
investment strategy from fossil fuels to the development of clean,
renewable energy. As the American Sustainable Business Council and
others have shown, the U.S. economy is better supported by strong
investment in renewable energy than by continuing to support our
dependence on fossil fuels. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline
will only set us back further on the road to the clean energy future we
and future generations need. So when it comes to evaluating the KXL, I'm
going to side with real job creation, the environment and our grandkids
- and give the KXL a big thumbs-down.
Williams is CEO and Founder of Environment Associates, a green
architectural firm based in Houston. Environment Associates is a member
of Green America, an organization that uses marketplace strategies to
create an economy that works for people and the planet.
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