Whenever gas prices skyrocket, Americans suddenly become interested in our country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels. A dramatic price jump is enough to force families to reconsider their taking separate cars to work and school or an afternoon run to Starbucks.
Elected officials also become aware of their dissatisfaction. For politicians, since their ultimate goal (in most cases) is re-election, they must brainstorm solutions to the problems facing voters. It becomes the responsibility of the elected official to find solutions to the problem.
One of the more politically popular solutions is the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the coast of Texas, where it would be refined and exported (something that would not, as its supporters claim, lessen American dependence on foreign oil). Constructing the pipeline would create many jobs, according to TransCanada, the energy company promoting the pipeline, and the United States Chamber of Commerce. As a result, TransCanada and its supporters, equivocally believe the pipeline would heal two large American wounds: the high unemployment rate and its continued dependence on oil imported abroad.
But when things seem to good to be true, they generally are. The number of jobs the pipeline would create is highly contested. Many of the jobs are temporary, and the number estimates are conflicting. The project — which in order to proceed, has to get approved by the United States Department of State — would also interfere with numerous environmentally sensitive areas of the country. Property owners in Nebraska have created a coalition to stop the project from running through their state, while successfully urging their elected officials to lobby for a diversion.
Enviro the main figure against the pipeline. He and others, late last year, organized several demonstration days outside the White House to pressure President Obama to not approve the pipeline. In several days of civil disobedience, over 100 protesters crossed a police line and were detained. The protesters wore Obama campaign pins, reminding the president of his campaign pledges to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels and find job-creating alternatives. The protesters, most of whom were 2008 Obama supporters, encircled the White House in one of the most attended events.
Yet it is very difficult for individuals to be able to stand up in opposition to the project when faced against the near limitless financial resources of energy companies, however. TransCanada, and other oil companies, are some of the largest donors to American politicians. Their influence is most easily visible in states with great natural resources — states like North Dakota.
Senator John Hoeven is one of the biggest backers of the project. When President Obama delayed the approval of the pipeline until 2013 (pending reviewal by the EPA), Senator Hoeven sought legal advice to determine whether or not Congress could go ahead and approve the project, bypassing the president. He, and other Republicans, dishonestly said it was vital for America’s energy security, for jobs.
Quite frankly, if politicians want to create jobs, following the status quo will not work. By finding alternatives to fossil fuels, America can create many more jobs — lasting jobs that will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
Last week, the Senate narrowly defeated Hoeven’s bill to proceed and construct the pipeline.
Although Hoeven’s bill failed, largely due to Obama calling Senate Democrats urging them to support his previous decision, the pipeline is most likely to proceed. President Obama is demonstrating that politics trump both economic and environmental interests. Officials in the White House have indicated that the president supports the pipeline but merely wants more time to explore the environmental consequences in sensitive areas, like the Nebraska section, before proceeding. By doing so, the president can please both camps: the environmentalists, who revel in every delay; and the oil companies, who are hopeful that with enough sway, the pipeline will be approved in short time.
This decision will be key to much of Obama’s political base. Sure, jobs have to be created, but if the president wants to retain support from individuals he courted in 2008 while being honest about the great, long-term environmental impact of the project, he will make the right decision and put a kibosh on the Keystone XL pipeline. He will be honest to Americans about the potential for new, long-term jobs promoting alternatives to fossil fuels.
That is, of course, if he has enough audacity to do so.
Matt Hansen, a fourth-year student, writes The People’s Republic of Matt, a politics column in Opinions. He double majors in political science and sociology at Concordia. On Twitter: @MattHansen