December 12, 2011
The Keystone XL oil pipeline has become the House Republicans’ weapon of choice in their fight with President Obama over jobs and taxes. Mr. Obama has said he will not make a decision on the pipeline until 2013. The Republicans are insisting that he approve it now and have attached an amendment to a bill extending the payroll tax cut in hopes of forcing his hand.
This legislative booby trap seems unlikely to make it through the Senate, and the president has all but said he would reject it if it does. But this has not stopped the House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, from using the pipeline as a political cudgel — or from wildly inflating its economic benefits.
The pipeline, known as Keystone XL, would be built by a Canadian company to carry heavy crude oil 1,700 miles from the tar sands in northern Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. It is opposed by environmentalists because extracting the oil from Canada’s boreal forests would generate more greenhouse gases than conventional oil drilling. It is opposed by politicians and voters from both parties in Great Plains states that the pipeline would cross.
Mr. Boehner calls Mr. Obama’s delay “theatrics” and described the project as a “no brainer” that will create “tens of thousands” of jobs immediately. This is a fairy tale, implying not only short-term but permanent benefits. The pipeline company, TransCanada, says the project could create 6,500 construction jobs annually, most of them temporary.
The State Department, the lead federal agency on the project, also estimates 6,500 temporary jobs. And the only independent study, conducted by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute, concludes that it may generate no more than 50 permanent jobs when the work is done.
Contrary to another favorite Republican argument, the pipeline will also do little to reduce America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Though it would provide a steady source of crude for Gulf Coast refineries, existing contracts and business plans indicate that most of their output will be destined for export.
In the Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, calls the Keystone XL “a shovel-ready project.” He and Mr. Boehner should look again at the environmental downside and at the negative public reaction along the proposed route through sensitive terrain. They should also take a look at the job numbers. The only shovel this project is ready for is the one that will bury it for good.