Keystone XL: the Moment of Truth for President Obama’s Climate Change Legacy
Oil pipelines are a lot like entitlement programs: once they’re in place, they never go away. O.K., so this is a flawed comparison, but in one key way, it touches on an important truth: what may start out as something relatively modest can develop in all sorts of unforeseen ways. Once TransCanada’s Keystone XL is built, it won’t go away until every last drop of oil is extracted. What will go away, however, are the jobs that it creates. Defenders of the Keystone XL love to trumpet that the project will create 42,100 jobs. What they don’t mention is that, according to a State Department report released today, only 35 permanent jobs will remain after construction. But the carbon emissions and unforeseen environmental effects of extracting toxic and highly volatile tar sands will continue long after that. Is it worth it? Perhaps in the short therm – if you’re an energy executive or one of their puppets in Congress. But for everyone else, it’s a disaster.
It’s true that Keystone XL is probably a drop in the bucket (albeit it a costly one) when it comes to carbon emissions. Opposition to it, as even its most high profile proponents admit, is to some extent symbolic. But symbolism is important in politics, as is precedent. If Obama, whom Americans perceive as a progressive president, green lights a project that climate scientists and environmentalists overwhelmingly oppose, it will send a message to big energy that government is not an impediment to their destructive aims. More pipelines will spring up like monstrous, mechanical roots feeding our poisonous, ever-heating climate. Their greed will not end with Keystone.
Needless to say, none of this is good for the human race. Progressives have to draw a line somewhere, and Keystone XL should be that line. It is unacceptable for President Obama to buckle under political pressure, all in the name of a project that hurts the planet and the American people. If Republicans are so concerned with jobs, Obama should insist that they invest in shovel-ready jobs programs to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and keep Americans employed for the long haul, not just two years. And, of course, there’s the teensy-weensy added benefit of not leaving behind a ruined planet for our children. The ball is in President Obama’s court. If he defies the pundits’ predictions and rejects the pipeline, he will be remembered for taking a brave stand against the greedy energy barons who threaten to turn Earth into a carbon cesspool. If he allows the construction of Keystone XL to move forward, it will pollute his legacy forever.