This past Friday, April 18, the Obama Administration delayed a decision on construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, citing a Nebraska state court decision that invalidated part of the project's route. The latest hold-up in the unusually lengthy review of the $5.3-billion oil pipeline will undoubtedly push any decision until after the November midterm election. Putting the pipeline on hold -- perhaps permanently, perhaps not -- certainly sits well with environmentalists, a group whose support the Democrats will need come November.
Not surprisingly, Republican lawmakers were incredulous and loudly cried foul that the president would actually put politics ahead what they claim are the pipeline's positives: jobs galore, a further step towards American energy independence and lower prices at the gas pump. To hear the wails of the conservative marching and chowder society, one would think that this is the first time in American history that a president has done something like this -- and that the administration is against jobs galore, American energy independence and lower prices at the gas pump.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters "It is crystal clear that the Obama administration is simply not serious about American energy and American jobs . . . . Apparently radical activists carry more weight than Americans desperate to get back on the job."
The entire Republican media machine has expressed incredulousness that the president would actually take the "unprecedented step of putting political gain ahead of national policy." Listening to their feigned shock brought to mind Casablanca's Captain Renault (Claude Rains) who, managing to keep a straight face announces himself "Shocked! Shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!" even as Emil, the croupier (Marcel Dalio) is handing him his nightly winnings.
Did the administration's decision to delay the Keystone XL until after the November midterm elections have anything to do with politics? Of course it did. Or, as Cousin Linda would say, "Ya think?" And, were the shoe on the other foot -- and the issue was, say, extending unemployment benefits or restoring cuts in food stamps -- (something guaranteed to raise the hackles of the conservative base) McConnell, Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy would do the same thing: put politics ahead of policy. It's just in the nature of modern high-stakes politics. Then again, so too is the simulated incredulity.
Much of the incredulity -- expressed by virtually every Republican and many at-risk Democrats -- is based on a couple of "facts" which have been trumpeted ad nauseum:
- That delaying the Keystone XL will cost the U.S. upwards of 120,000 jobs, and
- That the Keystone project will hold down gas prices for American motorists.
With regards to point number one, any big construction project requires workers to build it. How many? The U.S. State Department’s analysis says 3,900 would be employed directly if the job is done in one year, or 1,950 per year if work is spread over two. TransCanada Corp. puts the number higher, saying the project would support 9,000 construction jobs directly.
There would be additional, “indirect” work for companies supplying goods and services, including concrete, fuel, surveying, welding materials and earth-moving equipment required for the project, and “induced” jobs resulting from money spent by workers and suppliers, such as ranchers providing beef for restaurants and construction camps. Counting up everything, the State Department estimates a total of 42,100 jobs could be created. Nonetheless, House Republicans are still claiming the project would create 120,000 jobs. But that’s based on outdated information. The House Energy Committee’s GOP majority website extrapolates from figures given by TransCanada two years ago — for a much longer pipeline than is now proposed.
So these jobs – direct, indirect and induced – will total somewhere around 42,000 . . . for a maximum of two years. So far as permanent jobs are concerned, that’s a whole different story. It takes but a handful of workers to operate functioning pipelines. Best estimates for the number of permanent jobs range from 35 to 85, which is a far, far cry from the 120,000 the Republicans have been claiming . . .
Then there is the claim that the Keystone project will hold down gasoline prices for U.S. motorists. Foes have claimed that it would do the opposite, at least for Midwestern motorists. It is likely that neither claim is valid. The State Department’s analysis concluded that either way, the Keystone project would have “little impact on the prices that U.S. consumers pay for refined products such as gasoline.” That’s because Gulf Coast refineries that process heavy crude could continue to get it from Venezuela or the Middle East, as they do now, if they can’t get it from Canada, the report said. And even if the Keystone isn’t built, Canadian crude still “could reach U.S. and Canadian refineries by rail.”
Other independent experts have said essentially the same thing. Curt Launer, a managing director at Deutsche Bank, has been quoted as saying, “Keystone wouldn’t have a significant impact either way on overall North American energy prices.” Another expert, Morningstar analyst David McColl, was quoted in the same article saying the Keystone would have “no material impact” on gasoline or diesel prices. And even TransCanada doesn’t include lower gasoline prices in its list of the “economic benefits” it claims would result from building the pipeline. . .
As things stand today, "truth" and "facts" are highly relative things. There was a time not too long ago where certain truths were held to be both self-evident and irrefutable - like "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (for people, not corporations). And because of this bedrock principle, a real conservative like Winston Churchill could write, "The Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is." Today, I am sorry to say, his attitude is as démodé as garters and spats. And as for facts -- even those of a statistical nature -- today they depend largely on the promulgators; if you agree with their politics or values, you tend to accept their facts. But if you disagree with their politics and values, more likely than not you presume that they have fudged the facts, thereby inventing their own version of the truth. We see this all the time. As but one example, unemployment numbers put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics during a Democratic administration are disbelieved by Republicans -- and frequently -- vice versa.
In other words, the above-referenced statistics put out by the State Department are likely to be acceptable to Democrats and a tissue of lies to Republicans.
Unlike the fictional Captain Renault -- or Senator McConnell -- I will not feign shock at the administration's putting politics ahead of policy. That's the way of the world. However, when it comes to discounting facts and truths because one doesn't agree with the politics of those promulgating those facts, I find myself becoming frustrated and mighty weary.
It makes me long for the days of garters and spats . . .
©2014 Kurt F. Stone