Economic Opportunity and Energy Security, Not False Choices

Economic Opportunity and Energy Security, Not False Choices
By Michael Whatley

Last week the newly appointed head of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, penned a scathing opinion piece that claimed the Keystone XL pipeline would “cost the American people far more than we can afford.” To paraphrase an old saw, the author is entitled to his opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts.

Indeed, the final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued by the State Department, which worked in conjunction with multiple federal agencies and leading environmental consultants over a two and a half year period, concluded that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever constructed in the United States. The project must comply with more than fifty special requirements, rules, and regulations designed to ensure the project will be safer than the 175,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines that currently criss-cross the entire United States, including portions of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Keystone XL opponents also argue that development of Canada’s oil sands will increase air pollution and intensify “climate disruption,” but blocking the pipeline won’t stop development of the oil sands, as Canada’s Prime Minister has made abundantly clear. Instead, it will only guarantee that the United States misses out on enormous economic benefits. Moreover, a study from Barr Engineering shows that not building Keystone XL would actually be worse for the environment, as it would create the need for more ocean tankers (pipelines are a much safer method of transporting oil than tankers) and, in turn, increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

Even President Obama’s own Secretary of Energy Steven Chu agrees that Canadian oil is a vital source of energy, noting also that companies active in the oil sands are making “great strides” in terms of reducing environmental impacts.

Brune also questions the idea that construction of the pipeline will benefit our national security, despite the fact that each barrel we import from Canada is one less barrel we import from unstable regimes overseas. General Jim Jones, President Obama’s former National Security Advisor and someone who is actually an expert on international relations, also strongly disagrees with Brune. Jones had this to say about the project:


“I feel strongly approving the project [Keystone XL] serves the economic and security interests of the United States…Every day it becomes more evident for our nation to achieve true energy security we must engage our stable and reliable neighbors — Canada in particular. The country can’t afford to pass up the opportunity for reliable supply from a close ally and neighbor…”


Anti-pipeline arguments like those advanced by Brune suggest the oil flowing through Keystone XL will be shipped overseas. But America imports approximately 11 million barrels of crude oil per day. The 700,000 barrels of oil per day that will flow through Keystone XL is significant in terms of energy security, but it won’t change the reality that America will continue to need affordable and reliable sources of oil.

Construction of Keystone XL will have tremendous impacts on our national economy at a time when we need them most.  Opponents try to trivialize the type of employment provided by the pipeline, but hardworking men and women across the country understand that criticizing certain lines of work while millions of Americans remain out of work – opponents frequently mock the “temporary” construction jobs to be created – is simply the wrong position.

With 20 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, the 20,000 immediate manufacturing and construction jobs this $7 billion private sector project will create are needed more than ever. That is why organizations like the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters – folks who have experience building pipelines and other infrastructure – strongly support the pipeline. Keystone XL will also provide $5.2 billion in tax revenue to the corridor states, which will allow local governments the ability to fill budget gaps without raising taxes.
Opposition to Keystone XL has been spearheaded by organizations that regularly place opposition to affordable energy production among their highest goals. These groups, which include the Sierra Club, believe that we must stop the production of oil and gas to move forward with an aggressive renewables program.

It is true that America should pursue a policy that diversifies our energy resources through the development not only of oil and gas, but also alternative energy sources and energy efficiency technologies. But it is also true that renewables and alternatives won’t be able to make a meaningful difference to U.S. energy demand for decades.

Brune callously suggests, against all evidence, that Keystone XL advocates “aren’t really concerned about what’s best for the U.S.” But are we really to believe that the result of blocking Keystone XL – more dependence on OPEC, higher energy prices, and more greenhouse gas emissions – is actually good for American families?