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Keystone XL Is a Pipeline for Imbalanced Energy Policy Decisions

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is about more than clean energy. The scientific documents being used to support it are riddled with corporate conflicts of interest. The business case has never been strong. Officers at the State Department — on the job since before Secretary John Kerry’s tenure — greased the skids for the pipeline despite being paid to render impartial judgment. Every aspect of the project, from business to science to politics, truly stinks.

That’s why it’s doubly important we not lose sight of the biggest downside: the damage it does to our environment and the imbalance it creates in our energy policy. Right now, Keystone supporters are using an “all of the above” mantra to claim it’s part of some comprehensive energy strategy. It isn’t, and everyone knows it. It’s just more dirty business as usual. Show me where Keystone’s parent company, TransCanada, and its affiliates are funding wind turbines or solar panels on a scale comparable to the lobbying they’ve put into this pipeline and I’ll change my tune.

There’s no denying the United States consumes a lot of energy, and as long as there’s money to be made, companies will meet the demand. That doesn’t give them a blank check to ignore the consequences of how they do it. There’s an element of double-speak in Keystone’s pitch, which is essentially, “We’re giving you what you want, so what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that we can’t keep doing things the same old way. It’s too harmful to the environment. TransCanada seems to see climate change as the cost of making a profit. Many of us consider it an alarming trend we need to address sooner rather than later.

It’s strange to watch Keystone backers use arguments like, “We have to respond to the Ukraine situation by building this pipeline.” It’s clear they haven’t thought it through. Not one inch of the pipeline is currently in place. Even in the most pie-in-the-sky scenario, it won’t be completed less than a year after approval. How will selling about 800,000 barrels of oil a day on the global market — which consumes 92 million barrels a day — weaken Russia if we get started in a year? This isn’t an “every little bit helps” scenario. Ukraine and Keystone simply have nothing to do with each other.

That’s why informed opinion has already turned against Keystone. Brad Wieners, the features editor at BusinessWeek — hardly a platform for anti-capitalist sentiment — put it well in a March 7 article. Asking why Americans should support a pipeline that offers us nothing, he pointed out, “Several U.S. representatives and senators testified that the pipeline would yield 20,000, 40,000, or even 100,000 new jobs. The recession made those prospects extra compelling. Turns out they were extra optimistic, too. Now we know the pipeline might generate about 3,900 temporary (two-year) construction jobs and about 50 permanent ones. (Should we really be surprised? The whole point of a pipeline is that it’s automated.)”

That’s 50 permanent jobs in exchange for opening an enormous patch of Canadian heavy tar sands that don’t need to be developed to meet anyone’s energy needs. If this pipeline is approved, Americans get a lot of environmental risks — especially Midwestern farmers facing a polluted aquifer when Keystone leaks — in return for the right to help Canadian oil developers make money on the world oil market. How is that in our “national interest?”

Private enterprise can help develop the next generation of energy technology. We should be focusing on fuel efficiency standards and renewable energy research, not squeezing more of yesterday’s dirty fuel sources out of the ground no matter the cost. Keystone has nothing to do with energy supply, energy security or energy independence. It’s all about the bottom line for a few people who don’t deserve special favors from the State Department.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva is a Democrat from Arizona.

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