This past week President Obama and the State Department rejected a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. What a perversely ironic name: "Keystone." For me, a child of Hollywood, that name conjures up images of anarchic Kops who jump up and down, run to and fro, and throw pies with gay abandon; all perfectly predictable, all in the service of that low-brow class of comedy known as "slapstick." If the issues involved in the current Keystone -- the pipeline -- weren't so deadly serious -- energy, ecology and employment -- it too could qualify as slapstick: anarchic, predictable and low-brow.
Except this Keystone isn't a silent flick; it's got a sound-track and special effects and everything.
And it's more of a tragicomedy . . .
For anyone who's paying close attention to this ongoing tragicomedy, the State Department's rejection should come as no surprise; it is all part of an election-year scenario composed by the Republicans Caucus. From the moment late last month when Boehner & Company attached a provision to the payroll tax extension bill requiring the president to decide on the pipeline permit within 60 days, their intention was as obvious as the plotline of a Keystone Comedy: to hit Barack Obama and the Democrats with an election year pie in the face. Even before Republicans attached the provision, the White House had stated that it would need a minimum of another year in order to evaluate the various potential impacts of the pipelines. (For those not yet aware of what "fracking" -- hydraulic fracturing -- is, check out an article from The Guardian.) What has not been generally reported is that Nebraska and North Dakota -- two states that would be along the proposed pipeline route -- expressed severe reservations about the impact it might have on farmlands and aquifer. As a result, TransCanada -- the firm set to build the pipeline -- went back to the drawing board in order to create a new route. Both the president and the State Department have made it clear that they are willing to revisit this issue in the future, once TransCanada maps out a new route proposal. To listen to the opposition, the denial is both eternal and unalterable.
From day one, most Republicans -- and a number of Democrats -- proclaimed that approving the Keystone XL was absolutely essential; both for the jobs it would create, and for the energy independence it would guarantee. With the Obama Administration's denial, Republicans can now breathlessly accuse the president of being callously unconcerned about either. "He is," more than one Fox commentator has complained, "anti-oil and anti-Capitalism."
Anti-oil? Anti-Capitalist? Really? In his statement on the decision, the president said his administration is looking at another proposed pipeline in the Midwest. Just last month, his administration made available 21 million acres - an area about the size of South Carolina - of offshore drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico -- not precisely the action of a man or an administration that is "anti-oil." The lease auction attracted more than $337 million in high bids from oil companies.
Moreover, when the State Department issued its original negative report on the proposed Keystone-XL, it was marred by enough controvery and scandal to warrant an investigation by Foggy Bottom's inspector general.(Yes, that's right; the administration was investigating itself!) Last year, a Freedom of Information Act request by environmental groups revealed that a former Hillary Clinton campaign aide was working as a lobbyist for TransCanada, and that Cardno Entrix, a massive contracting firm and TransCanada client, was hired to prepare much of the original environmental assessment.
And the Teeheezels of the right still would have us believe that the administration is anti-oil!
What a predictable script.
In the run-up to Obama's permit denial, the entertainers at Fox, emoting from scripts written by TransCanada, claimed that the proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline would create 12-15,000 jobs. Now that it has been put on hold, that number has magically grown to anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 construction and manufacturing jobs as well as more than 120,000 indirect jobs. So far as I can tell, this is the only jobs program the Republicans have put forth since taking over Congress -- except for cutting taxes and regulations.
Want to talk about jobs?
A recent 40-page study published by the Cornell Global Labor Institute entitled Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL concludes that the job estimates put forward by TransCanada are "unsubstantiated." The folks a Cornell GLI found that "50% or more of the steel pipe, the main material input used for Keystone XL, will be manufactured outside the U.S." Another study concluded that at best, Keystone would create between 2,500 and 6,000 temporar y construction positions. It follows that if the number of direct jobs -- and their economic impact -- are far less than TransCanada has claimed, that the number of indirect positions will also be far less.
Another line in the script goes, "The oil carried by the Keystone XL will go a long way towards weaning America off of foreign oil -- something the president obviously could care less about!" Here again, there's a bit of a problem with reality . . . and reportage. It turns out that the United States, for the first time in 62 years, is a net exporter of petroleum products. According to data released in late November of 2011 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration -- and reported that notorious Socialist rag The Wall Street Journal -- "The U.S. exported 753.4 million barrels of everything from gasoline to jet fuel in the first nine months of 2011, while it imported 689.4 million barrels." As recently as 2005, we imported nearly 900 million more barrels of petroleum than we exported. The last time we were a net exporter of oil, gas cost 26 cents a gallon, the price of a first-class stamp was 3 cents, and a typical house cost $13,500.
This bit of good news has gone largely unreported. The question is why. I suspect it is because the lion's share of oil that would flow through the Keystone XL would be exported overseas . . . which does a lot for corporate profits but precious little for energy independence.