The More You Know: The Keystone XL Pipeline

 /  Jan. 20, 2015, 10:30 a.m.


Quick Facts about the Keystone XL and Why the Senate is Prioritizing this Bill

After Republicans recently gained control of the Senate, the GOP is not wasting any time before heading down the slippery slope that is the Keystone XL pipeline. On Monday, the Senate passed legislation approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would connect Canadian oil sands crude bitumen with Gulf Coast refineries. After passing this significant hurdle, the bill is on its way to becoming a law that President Obama has threatened to veto and that will likely only contribute to the acrimonious nature of the relationship between the Senate and the White House.

Last week, the Senate quickly passed a spending plan to defund Obama’s proposed immigration reform, which has been looming large on everyone’s minds and news feeds. But now the GOP is ready to tackle the Keystone XL pipeline by strategically placing it at the top of its to-do list. New Sen. Majority leader Mitch McConnell made his objectives clear when he threatened to keep the Senate in session until midnight on Tuesday evening if that was necessary to begin considering amendments to the Keystone bill. Can’t keep up with the developments of and oppositions toward the Keystone XL pipeline bill? Here’s what you need to know:

What is the Keystone XL pipeline?

The project was first proposed in 2008 and was set to begin carrying 830,000 barrels per day in 2012. The Keystone XL pipeline project wants to capitalize on the ability of the booming U.S. oil production to help Gulf Coast refineries suffering from declining imports from Mexico and Venezuela. The “XL” represents the proposed expansion of the existing pipeline that runs from Canada to Texas, which would add a larger, 1,179-mile pipe that runs through Nebraska.

What is the State Department saying about the “J” word?

Under the “Economic Overview” heading on the official report from the State Department, there are three subsections to clarify the number of jobs during each stage of the pipeline’s construction. It is interesting to note that the State Department writes four different times that the project will support a total of 42,100 jobs. Repetition surely makes it easy to remember this seemingly impressive number, but further investigation reveals that this number is a generous approximation. According to the official report, “a job” means “one position that is filled for one year,” while “support” means “jobs ranging from new jobs to the continuity of existing jobs.” So that clarification should raise a flag for all those proponents who are clinging to the promise of 42,100 new jobs, especially those who use the easy argument that there will be construction jobs since this is a construction project. Spoiler alert: There will only be a total of 3,900 construction jobs that are “direct and temporary” in the proposed project area, even if the project lasts longer than one year. Nearly 4,000 jobs is nothing to belittle, as it would undoubtedly help many unemployed citizens looking to catch an economic break, but their financial relief will be short lived and abruptly terminated if and when the pipeline is finished. Furthermore, 26,000 jobs, or 61.75 percent of the total approximate jobs, “would result from indirect and induced spending,” meaning goods and services (like food purchased from the temporary construction workers’ local restaurants). Bottom line: these jobs are all temporary and would not last more than two years.

What are Republicans saying?

In two words: more jobs. The pipeline is a construction project, which inevitably presents an opportunity for new construction jobs. While the exact number is unclear, the State Department claims 42,100 new jobs, but it might actually be closer to 16,000. Whatever the number, supporters of Keystone XL (mostly Republicans in this political debate) believe that allowing TransCanada Corp. to build the pipeline will prove many economic benefits for the United States, namely energy security for our nation to rely heavily on our own oil sources. Furthermore, this Canadian collaboration would provide jobs for citizens in the United States and Canada. In response to the alleged atmospheric issues, proponents argue that most oil emissions come from use rather than extraction and that Canada would be responsible to account for rising emissions from the oil, not the United States. So in a few words, supporters are saying vetoing this bill would prove that Obama “lacks even a rudimentary understanding of the most basic economic realities.”

What are Democrats saying?

Many of the bill’s opponents are Democrats, and many of these opponents frame their opposition in environmental terms. Various climate amendments have been added to the Keystone discussion as a way for Democrats to force Republicans into openly acknowledging such issues. Global warming is a hot topic of contention for the two competing parties, especially after Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott reminds people that “I am not a scientist” whenever the topic comes up. Obama supports scaling back carbon emissions, which are released from oil pipelines such as the Keystone XL, which would help reduce global warming and, ultimately, negative climate change. Therefore, Obama does not support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and will veto it for global and economic reasons. Canada is the largest source of crude oil ports to the United States and it already exports oil to the United States via other, preexisting Alberta oil sands pipelines. The Keystone XL pipeline would enable Canada to increase its oil output to 500,000 barrels a day, thus making the economic benefits for Canada greater than our own. Similarly, although supporters say that it would enhance United States energy security by depending more heavily on Canada’s oil sands, that only further proves the anticipated superior economic benefits for Canada, leaving the United States behind and Obama displeased with the nation’s post-KXL economic forecast.

What is everyone else saying?

According to a recent poll by CNN, 57 percent of the 1,011 Americans surveyed support the Keystone XL pipeline. It is possible that this high approval is influenced by the 42,000 jobs that the State Department has misleadingly thrown out to the public.

What does the GOP want to accomplish/How are they scheming to get this passed (eventually)?

This expansion has been under review for more than six years, so it seems that the Senate has selected this as the first item on the agenda because they believe it is time to finally move forward with the pipeline’s construction. However, the GOP could be using Obama’s expected veto in their favor. If Obama vetoes the Keystone bill, which he has said that he will if and when it shows up on his desk, then the GOP will move on to passing other bills that they are actually interested in passing for reasons other than maintaining the bureaucratic divide between Republicans and Democrats. Because this is most assuredly not the only bill that Obama will veto, the GOP will be able to collect all of these anticipated vetoes to convince the public that Obama doesn’t know what he is doing. Beginning their term with the Keystone XL pipeline was a smart choice in this regard, as the GOP knew Obama’s opinions going into this bill’s considerations and they can successfully predict his upcoming veto.

The Senate, which is now controlled by Republicans, is not wasting time in tackling some of the country’s biggest social, economic, and, of course, political issues likes the Keystone XL pipeline. Making this bill the GOP’s top priority was a strategic move on Sen. Majority leader McConnell’s part, as the party will soon be able to leverage Obama’s veto with the public to demonstrate that perhaps the nation’s leader isn’t considering all the allegedly positive outcomes of this pipeline. But more than anticipated vetoes from the president, the GOP, like many others, are ready to “Just say yes” to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. After all, it has been in discussion for over six years and it’s clear that Republicans aren’t willing to wait any longer now that they have a representational advantage in the Senate.

Alexi McCammond


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