America’s 629,000 unemployed construction workers face a grim new year. The recession brutalized their sector of the economy, and the recovery remains weak and uncertain. President Obama could help these struggling Americans — as well as the rest of us — by approving the Keystone XL pipeline.
Approval is long overdue. TransCanada first submitted its application for the pipeline in September 2008. In the years since, the U.S. Department of State has published five environmental-impact assessments determining that the pipeline’s effect would be, at worst, negligible. The returns from the November congressional elections makes passage of legislation approving the pipeline a inevitability in January. President Obama has no good excuse left to further delay a $7 billion, shovel-ready, economy-boosting investment.
The two-year building time will generate 42,000 jobs, including 9,000 construction jobs. The rest of the nation enjoys a 5.8 percent unemployment rate, but it’s 7.5 percent in the construction trades. That determines a longer spell between projects for many workers. Public and private spending on construction remains 13 percent below pre-recession rates.
Some argue that most of those jobs are only temporary. This misses the point; construction jobs are always temporary. Workers always move on to another job when a project is completed.
The clock on President Obama is running down, too. Even from a political perspective, stonewalling approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is shortsighted for the president and his party. The Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans want the pipeline to go ahead. Fewer than 1 in 3 Americans oppose it.
Public support for Keystone is strong because the benefits of the pipeline are clear, and these benefits would ripple through the U.S. economy.
The domestic economic benefit of imported oil is only 10 cents on the dollar, compared to a domestic benefit of 80 to 90 cents for North American oil. Lower oil and gas prices spur American manufacturing; in 2012 alone, cheaper energy saved the manufacturing sector around $130 billion.
Approval of the pipeline would reduce dependence on foreign oil and strengthen the nation’s security. Keystone would move 830,000 barrels of oil a day from a friendly and reliable neighbor, equal to half of what the nation currently imports from the Middle East. Declining energy trade with Mexico and reduced production in Venezuela have created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Canadian energy transported via Keystone XL would offer a stable, secure substitute.
There’s an environmental component, too. The Alberta tar sands comprise the third-largest oil reserve in the world, but account for only .01 percent of global carbon emissions. The alternatives to Keystone XL impose considerable carbon costs. If the United States does not import its crude oil from Canada and relies on Middle Eastern oil, the greater the penalty on the environment.
Some opponents of fossil fuels appear to believe that if the Keystone XL is not built that oil will remain in the Canadian tar sands. That’s not true. The oil will find an alternate market somewhere. Without the pipeline, Canadian oil will move by train, truck and tanker, increasing emissions by 42 percent, according to the State Department.
Six years of extensive debate, a debate growing ever more tedious and repetitive, has only strengthened the opinion of a big majority of Americans that moving ahead with Keystone XL is the right thing to do. Why more pointless delay, Mr. President? Unemployed workers need relief.