Say what you will about President Obama’s decision last week to reject TransCanada’s bid to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, it brought unity to Montana’s elected leaders. They were unanimous in their displeasure.
In their bipartisan agreement they claim to be fighting for jobs and economic development, which is admirable, but they are failing to lead in a way that will point Montana to long-term energy viability.
Here’s what they had to say:
Governor Steve Bullock: “President Obama’s decision to deny approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline is wrong and bad for Montana. The jobs, economic benefit, and energy security the pipeline would afford Montana are now lost due to the dysfunction that has come to define Washington DC.”
Congressman Ryan Zinke: “The President is 100 percent wrong on Keystone and every candidate who sides with him on this will pay the price on Election Day because the American people are fed up with it.”
Senator Steve Daines: “President Obama had an opportunity to help create good-paying jobs with the construction of the Keystone pipeline, but instead he chose to blatantly disregard the economic needs of this nation, the need for good-paying jobs, like union jobs, energy costs for Montana families and the will of the American people.”
Senator Jon Tester, one of nine Democrats to support the Keystone XL: “I’m disappointed with the president’s decision. After dragging his feet for years on the Keystone pipeline, the president missed an opportunity to strengthen America’s energy security. This decision prevents more good-paying Montana jobs and ensures that we continue to do business with hostile countries in the Middle East. ”
The “overinflated” importance of Keystone XL
It’s not my intent to hash out the debate over the Keystone XL, which has enjoyed a plurality of support among the American electorate. The truth is, as the President said in his recent announcement, the proposed 1,179-mileKeystone XL, which would have carried 800,000 barrels of crude per day, has had “an overinflated role in our political discourse.”
Montana’s elected leaders are understandably concerned about the impact of Obama’s decision on jobs. Since the project would cut through Montana, some of those jobs would go here, but the Keystone XL would not be a long-term job creator. Most of the work would be in the construction phase — about 3900 temporary construction-related jobs during the two-year implementation period, plus additional spinoff economic benefits. After construction is completed, the Keystone would only produce about 50 permanent long-term jobs. Compared to the remarkable 271,000 new jobs created in the United States economy in October of this year alone, it’s not a huge number.
And the concerns of environmentalists are less about the pipeline itself than what would be transported through it. The oil would come from Alberta’s tar sands. It is dirty, thick crude oil that is energy-intensive and produces a significant amount of carbon emissions. Critics say that Keystone XL will elevate greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change by encouraging expansion of the tar sand development. Also, if it leaks, the oil is corrosive and difficult to clean up. But according to the US State Department, the Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands” because Canadian officials and oil producers vow that the oil will be extracted and reach the American marketplace by other means if the pipeline is not constructed.
Man in the Moon leadership needed
But the big difference between the President and Montana’s elected leaders was the tone of their responses. Bullock, Zinke, Daines and Tester spoke mostly about jobs and economic factors — short-term impacts that would directly affect their constituents.
Obama’s reasoning was at a different level — visionary and long-term: “America’s now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.” His focus was on sending a message to the rest of the world in advance of the upcoming Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The message was that the United States will lead by word and action in combating climate change, focusing on both the demand and supply for fossil fuels. Regardless of the magnitude of the Keystone’s impact, moving forward on that pipeline would undercut our global leadership. If the Paris meetings are going to generate a major international agreement, the US needs to be seen as a strong and unequivocal leader
This is the level of leadership that Montana is missing. We expect that our elected leaders will fight for jobs and economic development in Montana, and they did that in their opposition to the Keystone XL. But we also expect that they will not push for short-term jobs at the expense of long-term viability.
Montana needs to transition its economy and energy grid away from fossil fuels to renewables. We need visionary leaders, who will become “Man on the Moon” leaders who will show a path to the future of energy in the state. On that scale, our elected leaders continue to fall short.
And, to close on a lighter note, here’s what Stephen Colbert had to say about the Keystone XL and climate change: