The Universal Notebook: Veto the Keystone frack pipe

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With gasoline now hovering near a mere $2 a gallon, two questions jump immediately to mind.

When will President Obama get credit for turning the economy around? Answer: Probably never.

And who in the world would think it was a good idea to build the Keystone XL pipeline? Answer: Republicans and oil corporations, that’s who.

Keystone XL is a thousand-mile-long pipe designed to allow U.S. refineries to suck dirty shale and tar sands oil down from Canada and then ship it overseas. There are no real benefits to the United States and a great many environmental hazards, but newly emboldened Republicans are trying to sell Keystone XL as a jobs program.

While estimates of jobs created by Keystone XL vary wildly, there is general agreement that 42,000 temporary construction jobs would be created during the building phase. If Republicans want to create tens of thousands of construction jobs, all they have to do is stop standing in the way of transportation infrastructure improvements.

If we’re talking permanent jobs, Keystone XL will only employ about 50 pipeline workers once it is operational. Fifty employees might trigger mandatory health insurance under Obamacare, but it’s hardly enough to justify the risk to land, air and water.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Crybaby Boehner seem determined to make Keystone XL their first pro-business, anti-environment battleground. That’s probably because 83 percent of Republicans favor Keystone XL compared to just 43 percent of Democrats. Good thing there is an adult in charge in Washington who will veto anything stupid the Congress might try to pull.

To be perfectly frank, I am almost as surprised that Keystone XL has become such a political flash-point as I am that gas prices are so low.

The falling gas prices are apparently due to the fact that the U.S. has increased its own production capacity by 50 percent in recent years, another accomplishment for which Obama gets little or no credit. Everybody gives lip service to (cliche alert) “reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil,” but Obama actually did something about it. And a lot of that cheap gas we’re all pumping has come from the dirty shale oil that has so many up in arms about Keystone.

Then, too, it’s not like the Keystone pipeline doesn’t already exist. Keystone XL is a proposed upgrade to a pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, that was completed in 2010. That’s all Red State territory out there, so if folks in the Midwest want to fowl their own nest, maybe we should just let them.

The “Catch-22” of Keystone XL is that because gas refined from shale oil has driven gas prices down, it may no longer be economical in the short term to pump Canadian tar sands down to the heartland and the Gulf. Remember all that talk about peak oil and having reached the bottom of the oil well a few years ago? Well, apparently there’s plenty more if we’re willing to move heaven and earth to get at it, in the process risking the destruction of heaven and earth.

So right now, Keystone XL seems unwise and unnecessary and increasingly uneconomical. Let the GOP smoke the Keystone frack pipe, and then Obama can sober them up with a veto. But there are two long-term issues with cheap gas and tar sands that we still need to address before the next oil boom and bust.

First, the real reason gas is so cheap that you can now fill a car up for $25 instead of $50 is that we don’t pay the true cost of the gasoline we use. Most other developed countries pay much more per gallon or liter than we do, because they tax gasoline on its true social costs.

Don’t get me wrong, I love paying peanuts for gas, but I know I am living in a fool’s paradise. Paying $2.20 a gallon doesn’t even cover the cost of highway maintenance, let alone the impact on the environment. The U.S. hasn’t increased the federal gas tax for more than 20 years. Cheap gas is the lie we all live.

The other long-term issue is the environmental damage that mining shale oil and tar sands do to the environment, not to mention the damage that we all do driving around in fossil fuel-mobiles. Burning Canadian tar sands oil produces 20 percent more greenhouse gases than currently available gasoline, which, by the way, is already destroying the atmosphere, despite what Neanderthal climate change deniers want to believe.

Conservatives are always ranting that it is wrong to pass a massive national debt on to the next generation, but for some reason they don’t seem to mind passing on a dying, polluted planet.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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