Politics pause pipeline

Published 10:09 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Dec. 8 I should be writing about 31 years without John Lennon, not something that happened almost a month ago on Nov. 10.
That’s the date the State Department announced postponement of the $7 billion, 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline designed to transport tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
How did that momentous decision merit relatively scant media attention?
I was beginning to think I dreamt it, then my state Sen. John Proos put out a release Dec. 6 expressing his disappointment.
“I am upset and frustrated that the Obama administration is putting politics ahead of creating American jobs,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “Southwest Michigan families, job providers and schools are struggling with high gas prices. Approving this pipeline to bring Canadian oil to U.S. markets will lower the price at the pump and also create thousands of Michigan jobs. To delay it until after the 2012 election is a joke and a slap in the face to all Americans.”
“We must look hard at America’s long- and short-term energy policies because the status quo is hurting our economy and costing us jobs,” Proos said. “We would like to move toward more sustainable energy sources, but we still have a need for oil. We have resources available right here in North America, and I urge the federal government to reconsider its delay and help energize our economy and create jobs by looking to our Canadian friends to help reduce gas prices. Most of the oil America uses comes from unstable Middle East governments that use our dollars for undemocratic, often dangerous purposes — including funding terrorism. Instead of financially propping up these regimes, we should tap into Canadian sources, strengthening our ties with this important ally and improving our national security. By partnering with Canada to meet our energy needs, we can simultaneously make the world a safer place and create jobs.”
The reader who wrote me wondering if I’m a Marxist (my idea of Lenin and Marx are the slain Beatle and the comedic brothers), might not be shocked to learn that while I know and respect John and am Facebook friends with John, we have divergent opinions on this issue, although I could agree that the president put politics first.
Regular readers might notice that my frustration with Mr. Obama has revolved around him campaigning as a bold, transformational political figure who turned timid in the White House, so I suspect he’s come to the right decision for the wrong reason.
While I get the jobs part by which Proos frames the issue, to me it’s about climate change, tipping points and demanding energy policies that will preserve a livable climate for humans.
I can’t remember the last time Obama flashed his considerable oratory skills, but rapid climate change could be the address of his life.
After all, how can it be a serious problem when our leader doesn’t seem preoccupied with it?
It’s easy to sell the pipeline as a job juggernaut and energy crisis panacea because after meeting all the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, they’re rooted to that page.
Scientists, on the other hand, warn that burning 230 billion tons of carbon in landlocked Alberta tar sands (black goo said to look like roof tar mixed with beach sand) could spike global warming to catastrophic levels. A NASA climate scientist predicted Keystone could spell “game over” for the planet.
Did you know we already get more oil from Canada than the Middle East?
Water and sand left from the process, teeming with toxins and heavy metals, get pumped into giant lakes of toxic sludge visible from space.
That’s what you want spilling in the fragile Nebraska Sand Hills.
Gov. Dave Heineman convened a special session of the Legislature to block the pipeline.
Ranchers don’t want pipeline buried in their water supplies, though some buckled and sold right of way at threats of losing their land through eminent domain.
But foreign corporations can’t seize property without a federal permit in hand.
The New York Times reported that the State Department’s outsourced environmental impact statement predicting “minimal” harm was written by a Houston consultant TransCanada selected.
This area learned the hard way about spills last July, when a pipeline operated by Enbridge Energy dumped almost a million gallons of tar sand sludge into the Kalamazoo River. I read clean-up could cost $700 million.
TransCanada, capitalizing on economic insecurity, claimed the pipeline would create 20,000 construction jobs, 118,000 spinoff jobs and bolster the economy to the tune of $20 billion.
Fox News predicted “up to a million new high-paying jobs.”
Turns out numbers came from a Texan also on TransCanada’s payroll.
The State Department erred on the side of caution — 6,000 construction jobs, maybe 50 when it’s up and running.
And that infusion of energy security? Bound overseas, maybe Europe. Maybe China. That’s no joke.