Fringe Obstructionism: Keystone XL
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By Robert L. Bradley Jr.
Climate activist Bill McKibben recently patted the environmental movement
on the back for obstructing the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline,
which would transport oil sands from Alberta, Canada (along with U.S.
supply) to the Gulf. McKibben opined, "it's pretty amazing to see what
happens when people organize."
Amazing, indeed. In standing with extreme environmentalists on this
issue, President Obama is not only acting against the best interests of
the American people, but also of the environment itself.
While McKibben is right about the control of anti-industrial green
activists on White House energy policy, few of his other assertions stand
up to scrutiny.
It's been more than a year since Obama's State Department concluded that
the pipeline would have next-to-no effect on the climate. In fact, the
report found that the project would likely reduce greenhouse gas
emissions in the coming years.
Blocking Keystone XL won't stop these energy resources from being
developed. With high up-frontcosts and low variable costs, as well as
long-lived output, production from the oil-sand industry will not be
stymied by lower prices. But by reducing the need for rail and tanker
transport, Keystone XL is anticipated to cut the carbon emissions
associated with oil-sand transportation between 27 and 41 percent.
McKibben wrongly boasts that the pipeline could be "the first major
fossil-fuel project ever shut down because of its effect on the climate."
If Keystone XL is scrapped, it will be despite the environmental promise
of the project.
Evidence suggests that the project is less an environmental issue than an
economic one. The project will require 40,000 direct and indirect jobs,
while contributing $3.4 billion to the nation's economy.
Obama and McKibben retort that these are temporary, not permanent, jobs.
But as any construction worker will tell you, all projects are temporary.
Keystone XL is one whose willing buyers and sellers do not require a
dollar from taxpayers.
It's little wonder then that labor unions are pushing Democrats on the
issue. A vote against Keystone XL, stated Terry O'Sullivan, head of the
500,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America, "is a vote
against all construction workers, a vote to keep good, middle-class jobs
locked out of reach and a vote to continue to rely on nations that hate
America for our energy."
A strong majority of voters support the construction of Keystone XL. They
have heard the best arguments from both sides and chosen common sense.
The chief obstacle facing the project is the president himself, who
remains the greatest ally of green activists who see Keystone XL as a
beachhead in their war to stop a consumer-driven, free-market,
This commitment, of course, isn't based in science or economics, but
self-interested politics. Speaking about the consequences of a veto-proof
approval in the Senate, one environmental lobbyist lamented, "For all the
activists and for the president, it would be devastating."
Sad as that may be, American energy policy shouldn't be based on what's
best for the fringe activists. Producers and consumers deserve a more
vibrant, interconnected, and efficient North American energy market.
Robert L. Bradley Jr. is CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy
Research and the author of seven books on energy history and public