Keystone XL: The Pipeline That Won't Die

12-13-2011 // Jeff Goodell

This excerpt is from Rolling Stone Politics

OK, so we've got an election coming up.  And OK, we all know that Boehner and other Republican leaders are happy to kiss the ass of Big Oil.  But even with those caveats, this is a pretty shameless bit of political brinksmanship.  Let's put aside the fact that the dirty tar sands oil that would be brought down to Gulf refineries by the pipeline would do little if anything to increase America's energy security, or that it would help to cook the climate by ensuring a global market for the carbon-intensive stuff.  I just want to make two key points.

First, the myth of jobs.  A few months ago, Fox News was claiming the pipeline would create 250,000 new jobs.  Sounds good – except those numbers were based on a single study that has been widely discredited. According to the Cornell Labor Institute, the real number of permanent jobs created by the pipeline is likely to be about ... 50.  If you factor in the environmental damages and higher oil prices the pipeline will cause, the project might even lead to a net loss of jobs.

Second, the policy rider that Boehner is trying to attach to the tax bill is radically subversive.  The bill would take oversight of the siting and construction of the pipeline out of the hands of the State Department and put it into the hands of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that has zero experience siting and approving oil pipelines. (The agency is involved with the construction of intra-state natural gas pipelines, but that is entirely different matter.) In fact, as it stands now, the agency doesn't even have statutory authority to oversee pipes.  "FERC does not have jurisdiction on oil pipelines," Tamara Young-Allen, a spokesperson for the agency, told me when I asked her about it.  "This would be very different from what the agency has done in the past."

Wait, it gets better. According to Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation, not only does the bill give oversight of the pipeline to FERC, it actually requires the agency to approve the pipeline within 30 days.  To put it another way, the bill doesn't require the agency to study the pipeline and determine if it is safe, or study the risk of environmental damages in case of a spill. It simply requires the agency to approve the pipeline. "This is not a good way to ensure strong regulatory oversight," says Symons, in a wild understatement.

Yesterday, the State Department took a slap at House Republicans, issuing a statement warning that it would not go along with any plans to fast-track the pipeline permit process -- and that the bill itself may violate environmental laws.

In a rational world, House Republican would get nowhere with this. Even if the House manages to pass a bill with the policy rider attached, it's unlikely to get far in the Senate.  And President Obama has said he will veto any bill with the policy rider attached.  That may be true.  But it would be unwise underestimate the lengths to which House Republicans will go to please Big Oil.  "With end-of-the-year dealmaking going on right now, and both a spending bill and a tax bill up for both grabs, it could emerge anywhere," says Symons.  "The Republican strategy right now is to press the President on everything they can and see what they get."

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