Point-Counterpoint: Should the U.S. build the Keystone XL pipeline?

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Late last month, the U.S. State Department issued a report on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would ship oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast for refining. The pipeline has become one of the country’s most-debated domestic-policy issues.

Just build the thing

It’s not that the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are wrong, necessarily; it’s just that over the course of the six-year debate, an inconsequential issue has turned into a comically exaggerated pseudo-referendum on the future of Earth.

Yes, the issue has roused more environmental activism than usual, but for what end, really? There are bigger proverbial fish to proverbially fry. We ought to move forward with the Keystone pipeline and set our environmental sights on a worthier cause. Some type of fatally doomed-from-the-start cap-and-trade plan, perhaps.

Killing the Keystone pipeline simply isn’t a big enough environmental victory to justify the amount of activist-leverage and attention being lavished on the subject.

The long-awaited State Department report on the environmental ramifications of the pipeline project dropped a few weeks ago and its findings underwhelmed many — it found that the pipeline would have very little effect on global greenhouse-gas emissions and that its construction would not increase the development of Canadian oil sands.

Sure, the pipeline may be a symbolic victory for the near-term viability of fossil fuels, and there’s always the looming specter of a potential spill, but the project would hardly be a silver bullet that destroys the environment.

That’s not to say that the green left is solely responsible for hooting and hollering over this pipeline. Consider the widely circulated conservative claim that the Keystone pipeline would create upwards of 20,000 jobs. Well, that’s false.

The State Department report projects that construction will require about 42,000 “job years”; after a little bit of math that works out to about 3,900 construction jobs. Respectable, but a far a cry from 20,000.

The pipeline would employ about 35 people after its construction. See, everybody’s in on the hyperbole.

Perhaps the most consequential aspect of Keystone XL is that it could be used as a bargaining chip for President Obama in some congressional negotiation to be named later, but even its utility in that respect has been reduced by House Speaker John Boenher’s recent swearing off of crisis-to-crisis legislating.

In the end, nobody wins, and nobody loses. Let’s move on.

Zach Tilly

Kill the fossil-fuel culture

When it comes to the issue of global warming, the news only seems to get more and more dire.

A recent study, led by Stanford researcher Adam Brandt, concluded that methane, a gas key to warming the planet, is far more prevalent in our atmosphere than previous government estimates. A report leaked from the United Nations predicted that greenhouse-gas emissions would triple by 2050. All of this as extreme weather events, spurred on by massive climactic change, continue to wreck havoc, not only in the United States but across the globe.

Even as the global warming situation grows more and more apocalyptic, the Obama administration seems to be heavily weighing the option of approving Keystone XL, a major transnational oil pipeline between the United States and Canada.

For starters, that the United States continues to invest in significant fossil-fuel projects such as the pipeline is simply depressing. In an era in which fossil fuels have been shown to be almost solely responsible for our dismal environmental conditions, the time and energy put into this pipeline would be better spent on renewable resources such as solar and wind power.

The Keystone also has a plethora of environmental issues attached to it, including, but not limited to, contaminating the aquifer that serves much of the central United States and an additional 27.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

However, the real danger of Keystone doesn’t necessarily lie in particularly pernicious environmental damage rising from the pipeline specifically but rather in the symbolism of the operation. Approving Keystone means that the United States isn’t actually serious about combating what is, by far, the most pressing danger to humanity’s continued existence on this planet. The United States can’t claim that it’s committed to reversing climate change while approving a massive pipeline that acts as a shrine to dirty, nasty, filthy energy resources.

President Obama has a simple choice. He can either approve the pipeline and continue our civilization’s long slide into the ash heap of history, or he can reject the continued expansion of an energy policy that will eventually kill us all. Stopping Keystone won’t solve our problems, but we can’t afford to continue to accommodate the culture that created Keystone.

Matthew Byrd

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