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Keystone is not a distraction

September 29, 2015
Weekly Columns

After nearly five years of refusing to state her opinion on the construction of the Keystone pipeline, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally broke her silence by declaring her opposition. In so doing, she also called the discussion of the pipeline a “distraction from important work we have to do on climate change…one that interferes with our ability to move forward with all the other issues.” I believe she is wrong on both counts. Discussions regarding the construction of the Keystone pipeline are not a distraction, and the position she finally took after years of waffling and stonewalling is inconsistent with job creation and clearly intended to score political points with environmental extremists.  

Following her public remarks, Clinton continued in a written explanation that “We shouldn’t be building a pipeline dedicated to moving North America’s dirtiest fuel through our communities.” Certainly, I am in favor of encouraging energy innovation and pursuing the most efficient energy sources to power our nation. But thwarting construction of Keystone XL will not prevent oil from traveling between Canada and the United States. Without the pipeline, producers and refiners will instead be bound to more dangerous and slower transport alternatives like train or truck, which poses a greater risk to the communities Clinton refers to.  

As another reason not to construct Keystone XL, Clinton cited the disrepair of existing pipelines across the nation. While I absolutely believe that pipelines should be properly maintained, repaired and re-assessed for safety, Clinton is wrong to put Keystone XL in the same category as existing infrastructure. Back in January 2011, TransCanada agreed to 57 standards determined and crafted by the Department of State and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to ensure the highest level of safety before, during and after construction of the northern route. 

When TransCanada first submitted its application in 2008 and during part of the now-excessive review, it’s important to remember that Clinton was serving as Secretary of State. In October 2010, she was asked whether the pipeline would be approved by the State Department. At that time, she responded that “we are inclined to do so,” signaling no reason for the hold-up that has marked the last seven years with reviews, studies and needless delay. 

More frustrating is the fact that completion of the southern route—from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast—was celebrated in 2012 by President Obama even though the Administration had nothing to do with its construction. Unlike the southern portion, Keystone XL requires presidential approval only because it crosses an international border, which means that opposition to it doesn’t necessarily prevent construction of other pipelines built within the confines of our own borders. In such cases, companies like TransCanada would only need to have approval at the state and local levels—even specific landowners—before attempting to build. 

As a reminder, if approved for construction, the $7 billion construction project would create around 42,100 direct and indirect jobs, adding around $2 billion in earnings to the American economy. Once completed, the pipeline could move up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day—we currently import about half of that amount from the Middle East. In addition to creating American jobs and pumping money into our economy without costing taxpayers anything, the pipeline would move oil more safely and quickly than alternative vehicles. In the process, by partnering with our Canadian friends, America could become less dependent on oil originating from volatile areas abroad.   

Hillary Clinton’s opposition to Keystone XL is obviously not founded on the facts surrounding the construction project but rather on pandering to radical environmental interest groups. By announcing her opposition to the pipeline’s construction, she has foolishly declared her opposition to the thousands of American jobs it would create. Furthermore, her position would require the United States to become even more dependent on foreign oil in the name of combating climate change, despite numerous studies that have revealed no significant environmental impact from the pipeline. Not only is Clinton’s position economically unsound and environmentally counterproductive, but it is diplomatically insulting to Canada—one of our strongest friends and allies. Certainly, this is not the sort of leadership America deserves.