Keystone Pipeline Protesters outside the White House.
I'm not sure what's worse, the inflated job creation estimates Republicans claim for the delayed Keystone pipeline, or the Obama Administration's cynical dithering about its potential negative environmental consequences. There is already almost 2,000,000 miles of energy pipeline crisscrossing the United States--every inch of it less stable--than the proposed 1,700 mile Keystone project will be. Frankly, the Obama Administration is simply pandering to environmental activist groups who have described the pipeline as "dangerous at both ends and dirty in the middle."
Are these activists right? Broadly speaking, yes. Mining, drilling, refining, and transporting energy is an inherently dirty enterprise, whether the energy comes from Canada or Venezuela. Using energy is also a dirty enterprise: 84% of environment contaminants derive from cars and trucks. If we were genuinely serious--as citizens, consumers, and political beings--we'd start taking personal and legislative responsibility for what, how, and where we drive.
But rather than hold ourselves responsible for how we use energy--an idea proposed by Jimmy Carter, for which he was ridiculed and punished by American voters--we allow politicians and special interests to cook up factoids, like "number of jobs created" or "destruction of the Ogallala Aquifer" that have nothing to do with our real problem: the United States has no long range energy use and conservation plan.
We might expect Republicans to resist long range planning--who can forget Michael Steele leading convention delegates as they chanted "Drill Baby Drill!?" But why the Obama Administration has focused on multi-million dollar subsidies to businesses like the ill-fated and ill-conceived Solyndra Inc., instead of helping schools and cities retro-fit public facilities to be more energy efficient, or by providing farmers with low interest loans for constructing high tunnels or highly efficient irrigation systems, is inexcusable. Democrat policy makers seem unable to comprehend how low-tech, sustainable, and graduated approaches to energy independence are what we need now.
We are at least three generations away from receiving any large-scale, distributable, economically practical contribution from alternative energy sources such as the wind or sun. Does that mean that we shouldn't invest in those sources now? Of course not. But it does mean that we need to figure out how to bridge the gap between the dirty energy present and the clean energy future.
Republicans justify the Keystone Pipeline Project on the basis of the jobs that it will produce--some estimates are as high as 100,000. Unless you count the tip a trucker leaves a Sioux Falls waitress on his way to Orchard, Nebraska, to deliver pipe as a job--as Republicans apparently do--the real number of jobs the pipeline's construction will yield is about 14,000, spread over a 36 month period. While 14,000 jobs are important, they hardly make a dent in our unemployment problem, and it certainly doesn't justify our aimless, mindless, energy planning processes.
In a similarly vacuous and deceitful way, the Obama Administration points to potential environmental harm to the Ogallala Aquifer, the source of most of the water for almost 2,000,000 people living along and adjacent to the pipeline. Degradation of the Ogallala by spilled oil would certainly be a bad, bad thing, but it is the least of our worries. Since roughly 1980, irrigation, hog confinement operations, suburban expansion, and bottled water consumers--combined with drought, have used almost 40% of the total water available in the Ogallala. If consumption continues at the same pace over the next 25 years there won't be any water left to degrade. If the Administration was really concerned about the integrity of the Ogallala it would encourage us to abandon our suburbs, move back to the city, and start drinking tap water.
That may sound facetious, but if you've been around for a while you can't help experiencing a sense of déjà moo--we've heard all this bs before from our so-called political leadership. The last politician who told the truth about energy and a way forward--Jimmy Carter--was, as I said, roundly rebuked and is now consigned to our National Memory as a Presidential Failure. One of the first things Ronald Reagan did was to tear the solar panels off the roof of the White House. He did that even before he raised taxes and blew a hole in the federal budget.
Although Obama was just a kid during the Carter Administration, he is enough of a student of history to know that no truth telling goes unpunished by American voters. That's why he'll gladly pat environmental activists on the head today, and give the go-ahead to the Keystone project on Tuesday.
In the mean time, neither party has the guts to get real about what energy independence means for consumers and business.