President Biden has immediately begun to advance his promised progressive agenda since taking office on January 20. His commitment to combatting climate change has resulted in one of the first economic casualties under his administration: the cessation of Keystone XL pipeline construction in the United States. The pipeline was initially proposed in 2008, but then-President Obama blocked construction in 2015, while President Donald Trump issued an executive order giving the project the green light to resume.
With the Biden administration’s latest move, permission for the Keystone XL pipeline might become a political hot potato like the Mexico City policy, with favorability changing between Republican and Democratic presidential administrations.
Critics have already begun pointing out the drawbacks of this unilateral decision. Thousands of current and future jobs have been sacrificed to (supposedly) help fight climate change. The Biden administration has responded by suggesting that the initial loss would be offset by employment in future green energy projects. None of these projects currently exist, and the promise will prove to be a detriment to the administration if they do not live up to progressive expectations. Even if these jobs never come to fruition, Democrats will nevertheless play defense for the decision for its usefulness as political ammunition against Republicans.
The main arguments against the Keystone XL pipeline vary, with some more concerned about the physical environmental impacts of the project that have reportedly been understated, and others more concerned about the statement behind the pipeline. According to experts, TC Energy, the company in charge of building the Keystone XL pipeline, failed to correctly estimate the amount of oil spillage predicted over 50 years. While troubling, opponents of the pipeline have been unable to understand the construction’s nuance regarding the broader scope of the fight against climate change.
Many of the reports concluding that Keystone XL poses a grave threat to the fight against climate change are fundamentally flawed. Reports released by environmental advocacy NGOs often fail to consider that the oil being drawn out in Canada will continue to be exported to the US refinery market with or without the pipeline. Roads and rail are much more inefficient transportation methods and will continue to contribute to greenhouse gas production.
The idea that the end of the Keystone XL pipeline’s construction will mitigate greenhouse gas emissions any more than usual is delusional. Even the Stockholm Environment Institute has published reports pointing out that the pipeline’s construction would not necessarily correlate to an increase in overall consumption, an essential factor in greenhouse gas emissions.
What This Means for America
Canada has already responded to Keystone XL’s contentious back and forth development in the United States by expanding existing pipelines like the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to British Colombia. For all of President Biden’s talk on a renewed Obama-Biden legacy in his campaigning, even President Obama saw the importance of energy exports to America’s position in the world economy. The loss of thousands of jobs will also certainly hurt the country, especially workers in Middle America that might see more of their jobs left behind in the war on climate change.
The transition to clean energy is a process that will take many decades and put thousands of Americans out of work if implemented too hastily. Even President Obama’s promise of 5 million green jobs during his time in office never came remotely close to fruition despite tens of billions of dollars in investment.
Ire for the oil industry has led to ill-informed energy policy decisions based on faulty reasoning. For all of President Biden’s talk of rebuilding American alliances, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was reportedly unhappy with the decision to halt the pipeline’s development. Ultimately, the Biden administration is pandering to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, more concerned with the bad optics of any energy policy not immediately involving wind and solar.
It remains unclear if TC Energy will stall production until a more favorable administration comes into power in the United States or undergo a total pullout from the project. Either way, our energy sector will continue to suffer as progressives claim more short-term victories in the name of political grandstanding under the new administration.
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