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Claire McCaskill needs our help. Specifically, she needs some facts. Just listen to this video in which McCaskill gives us her opinion about the Keystone (KXL) pipeline controversy and you’ll see what I mean:

First point: McCaskill says she thinks development of the Keystone pipeline is inevitable: “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and where,” she says. And maybe she’s right. Certainly there will be lots of money spent to make sure KXL happens – we know that Big Oil can really grease those congressional skids. However, because grilling seems inevitable, one doesn’t, like St. Lawrence, have to turn over and ask the cooks to roast the other side.

One of the ways that Big Oil insures that they get their way is by spreading loads of BS, spurious research or outright falsehoods, disseminated by members of the Republican party with the aid of their tame media. Often, though,  poorly informed – or cynical – Democrats like Claire McCaskill will echo the GOP line du jour, as she does in the video above. To her credit, one must add, McCaskill is much more tentative than the usual congressional big oil spokesperson, which leaves me with the impression that she might be receptive to a critique of her remarks.

Second point:  Per McCaskill, if the pipeline doesn’t go from North to South, it’ll go East to West, remaining within Canada. She implies that such an eventuality would deprive the U.S. of oil that would otherwise contribute to our energy independence. It seems to have escaped her attention that the pipeline is designed to run North to Southern port refineries – where it will be sold to any country that’s willing to pay the price.

As Money Morning’s David Zeiler puts it:

The pipeline will connect refiners, as Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors recently noted in his Oil & Energy Investor newsletter. The oil that reaches Gulf refineries could ultimately be consumed in the United States, but the finished products could just as easily be exported to China, Japan, or any other oil-hungry nation.

Energy companies will look to sell their oil to the highest bidder.

In fact, the United States is currently a net exporter of gasoline. In September, the U.S. exported 430,000 more barrels of gasoline than it imported. …

Third point. McCaskill suggests we should make the most of KXL and take advantage of the jobs that it promises to create. Sounds reasonable enough until one examines the various job creation claims.  

The State Department calculates that it will create somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 temporary jobs – which, according to an independent assessment by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, may be somewhat too generous. That study estimates that between 2,500 and 4,650 temporary, non-local jobs may result.

Given these numbers one can only look askance at the study commissioned by the company that seeks to build the pipeline, which estimates 20,000 construction jobs and 118,000 associated jobs in supporting industries. And, indeed, there are problems with these figures. As Money Morning explains:

… . That study used a “one person, one year model.” So if it takes 6,500 workers two years to build the pipeline, that’s 13,000 jobs, with the other 7,000 coming from supply manufacturers.

And if that math isn’t fuzzy enough for you, take a look at the calculations for the 118,000 spin-off jobs.

That number is based on the one person, one-year model in addition to something called the multiplier effect, which takes the capital costs of the project and feeds it into a formula. In short, these job numbers are about as reliable as a politician’s campaign promise.

Morning Money also remarks on the irony of GOP support for the mostly temporary KXL jobs given their oft-expressed contempt for the temporary jobs that resulted from stimulus spending.

But there’s more. The Cornell study cited above actually suggests that the pipeline might cost jobs:

… According to TransCanada, KXL [i.e., the Keystone Pipeline] will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually, and escalating for several years. It will do this by diverting major volumes of tar sands oil now supplying the Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result, consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel, adding up to $5 billion to the annual US fuel prices. … those higher fuel prices for the Midwest could cost that region thousands of jobs. …

The Cornell study explicitly concludes that the job potential of KXL is nil and that the decision should be based on other factors. Yet according to KXL supporters, denying the pipeline permit is an outrage against the unemployed, a point that McCaskill seems to echo, albeit more gently than hardcore supporters.

Fourth point: McCaskill seems to believe that she’s being pragmatic when she concludes that KXL is inevitable because we will need to depend on oil for a very long time. That’s what I call a self-fulfilling prophecy – all it takes to make it come true is a cabal of politicians who take their orders from Big Oil, their enablers in the go-along-to-get-along crowd, and those who can’t take the time to work out all the issues.

That’s why we have to help Claire McCaskill get on top of the Keystone XL controversy. I assume none of us want our congresspeople to decide on issues from a poorly informed position any more than we want them to base their decisions on purely political considerations. Nor do we want our Senators to go with the flow and claim that the destination was always inevitable.

Claire McCaskill can support the Keystone pipeline if she wants – there actually seems to be some evidence that the environmental costs are a bit exaggerated – but I hope that when the time comes, if she does so, she’ll be able to make a real case for it, not just concede defeat and repeat a few false GOP talking points.