Fringe 0bstructionism: Keystone XL


By Robert L. Bradley Jr.

Climate activist Bill McKibben recently patted the environmental movement on the back for obstructing the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil sands from Alberta, Canada (along with U.S. supply) to the Gulf. McKibben opined, “it’s pretty amazing to see what happens when people organize.”

Amazing, indeed. In standing with extreme environmentalists on this issue, President Obama is not only acting against the best interests of the American people, but also of the environment itself.

While McKibben is right about the control of anti-industrial green activists on White House energy policy, few of his other assertions stand up to scrutiny.

It’s been more than a year since Obama’s State Department concluded that the pipeline would have next-to-no effect on the climate. In fact, the report found that the project would likely reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

Blocking Keystone XL won’t stop these energy resources from being developed. With high up-frontcosts and low variable costs, as well as long-lived output, production from the oil-sand industry will not be stymied by lower prices. But by reducing the need for rail and tanker transport, Keystone XL is anticipated to cut the carbon emissions associated with oil-sand transportation between 27 and 41 percent.

McKibben wrongly boasts that the pipeline could be “the first major fossil-fuel project ever shut down because of its effect on the climate.” If Keystone XL is scrapped, it will be despite the environmental promise of the project.

Evidence suggests that the project is less an environmental issue than an economic one. The project will require 40,000 direct and indirect jobs, while contributing $3.4 billion to the nation’s economy.

Obama and McKibben retort that these are temporary, not permanent, jobs. But as any construction worker will tell you, all projects are temporary. Keystone XL is one whose willing buyers and sellers do not require a dollar from taxpayers.

It’s little wonder then that labor unions are pushing Democrats on the issue. A vote against Keystone XL, stated Terry O’Sullivan, head of the 500,000-member Laborers’ International Union of North America, “is a vote against all construction workers, a vote to keep good, middle-class jobs locked out of reach and a vote to continue to rely on nations that hate America for our energy.”

A strong majority of voters support the construction of Keystone XL. They have heard the best arguments from both sides and chosen common sense.

The chief obstacle facing the project is the president himself, who remains the greatest ally of green activists who see Keystone XL as a beachhead in their war to stop a consumer-driven, free-market, energy-rich economy.

This commitment, of course, isn’t based in science or economics, but self-interested politics. Speaking about the consequences of a veto-proof approval in the Senate, one environmental lobbyist lamented, “For all the activists and for the president, it would be devastating.”

Sad as that may be, American energy policy shouldn’t be based on what’s best for the fringe activists. Producers and consumers deserve a more vibrant, interconnected, and efficient North American energy market.


Robert L. Bradley Jr. is CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy Research and the author of seven books on energy history and public policy.

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