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The Keystone Pipeline would cross the central United States carrying environmentally “dirty” tar sands oil to refineries on the Gulf. Environmentalists oppose it on numerous grounds. Those who support it it usually do so on the grounds that it would create jobs in the U.S. and would lessen our energy dependence on the Middle East. Both claims have been convincingly disputed. The jobs claim, however, has been a constant talking point among Missouri’s Republican delegation to Washington D.C.:

I wrote last week that Rep. Ann Wagner (R-4) was getting all worked up that the president had had the gall to call Republicans out on the topic of the economy while delaying approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Right now, President Obama can approve the Keystone XL pipeline and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs while ushering in a new era of energy independence.

GOP Senator Roy Blunt also thinks Keystone XL is a great idea according to a press release on his Website:

Blunt cosponsored bipartisan legislation – which was introduced by U.S. Senator John Hoeven (N.D.) and is cosponsored by 44 Senators – to authorize the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Keystone XL Pipeline would create an estimated 20,000 jobs.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3) claims that if the President endorses the pipeline, “the end result will be the creation of 20,000 jobs and the reduction of our dependence on foreign oil.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-4) also likes that 20,000 number, claiming on her Website, that “TransCanada, the builder of the pipeline, plans to spend  $7 billion in the U.S. and create 20,000 jobs.”

Ever the team player, Rep. Billy Long (R-7) goes along with the idea that it’s all about jobs, claiming that “the Keystone pipeline is a privately funded jobs project.” Imagine! I bet TransCanada thinks it’s significantly more that a “jobs project” when it comes to their bottom line.

On the other hand we have President Obama who recently indicated the criteria he would use to judge whether or not to okay the pipeline project. In his statement, he discounted the jobs argument that has become an article of faith among his Republican detractors, who were moved to near hysterical levels of invective when he delayed his decision on the pipeline last year. Instead, the President observed that:

“Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator,” Obama told the Times. “There is no evidence that that’s true. The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people.”

On one side: right-wing, free-market ideologues, many of whom are in hock to the energy industries that fund their campaign with big donations. On the other side: a famously cautious, centrist politician with nothing to gain from Big Oil who has taken the time to review all the arguments – and who has no ideologically implanted hostility to environmentalism baked into his genetic makeup.

The real indication that something is amiss with the GOP job estimates, however, is a fact that our pols ought to be aware of. The company that wants to build the pipeline, TransCanada itself, has been backing off the earlier estimates of large numbers of jobs:

In January of 2010, Trans-Canada CEO Russell Girling claimed that the project would produce 13,000 construction jobs.  In April of 2011 the number grew to 20,000, which the Canadian Ambassador reiterated in August 2011.  In January 2012 the number was revised back down to 13,000 and this past April the company revised that number even lower, to 9,000 construction jobs.

Nine thousand jobs are still more than the estimates prepared by the State Department and those offered in another study done by Cornell University, but it’s getting closer and closer to the ball park in which opponents of the pipeline have been playing. This fact alone suggests that our Republicans should be worried that they’re promising lots more than TransCanada can deliver.

ADDENDA:  TransCanada is sending mixed messages, apparently backtracking again to the 20,000 jobs figure – at least for public consumption – and claiming disingenuously that “there is no reason for us to overinflate our numbers, we have to answer to our board, we have to answer to our shareholders.”  The 9,000 number comes as noted above from the TransCanada CEO, Russell Girling in April of this year; the reiteration of the 20,000 number comes from a company “spokesperson,” one James Miller apropos the “political” situation that he posits as the rationale behind the President’s comments. Draw your own conclusions.