For a long time, my basic position on the Keystone XL pipeline has been that it’s not all that important. It won’t have a big economic impact (estimates range from 9,000 to 42,000 jobs, most of them temporary and inconveniently located). It won’t have any impact on U.S. gas prices or the mythical “energy independence,” since the whole point is to get it to Texas refineries so it can be shipped overseas. Nor is it a grave environmental threat, since there are thousands of miles of pipelines operating pretty safely now.
Moreover, stopping Keystone is not an environmental policy. Government should set consistent rules and enforce them fairly, not go overboard trying to stop a specific development that falls within the rules.
Writing in the New York Times this week, Joe Nocera makes similar points, along with a couple of others that haven’t found their way into the public debate:
1. Canada’s oil will get to market one way or another. One alternative would take it to the Pacific, from there to be shipped to Asia, though that faces environmental obstacles too. But have the opponents forgotten trucks and trains?
2. Tar sands oil isn’t “the dirtiest in the world,” as Keystone opponents claim. That prize goes to Venezuela’s heavy and extra-heavy crude, the WSJ reports. The U.S. gets 6 percent of the oil it uses from Venezuela, but it comes on ships, so there’s no pipeline to protest.
Nocera also goes after James Hansen, a giant in the climate change movement, but not because he’s wrong about the big picture or because scientists shouldn’t be activists. But Hansen, 71, is also the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, and his style of activism compromises the credibility of the government agency he heads. Hansen is also credited (along with his 350.org) with making stopping Keystone the centerpiece of the current climate change campaign.
Meanwhile, a carbon tax – which actually would be an energy/climate change policy – is gaining momentum. China has built a carbon tax into its five-year plan. A carbon tax has a few backers in Congress, but a long way to go. It would get there more quickly if activists obsessed with Keystone XL would focus their energies on a policy that would make a difference.