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Column: When Green and Blue Collide

Oil Pipeline
Barry Williams/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The proposed extension of the Keystone XL pipeline has divided the political left. On one side are environmentalists who are concerned about climate change and disappointed with the Obama administration for being all talk and no action thus far. On the other side are advocates for the working class, who see the potential for jobs and lower gas prices as something that should not be passed up.

Here in South Dakota, there is no real debate over this issue. There are some concerns about property rights and what not, but given the heavily Republican slant of the state’s officeholders, that some of those jobs would be local, and that being called an environmentalist is tantamount to an insult in these parts, the pipeline isn’t exactly controversial.

Elsewhere though, the debate rages on because of the complicated issues it raises. It is worth noting that the version of the pipeline that already exists does the work of bringing Canadian oil to the US Midwest. The extension would create another source point and another destination, this time a Gulf of Mexico port in Texas, which would allow for more convenient export of the oil. At a time when lessening dependence on foreign oil is so politically popular do we really need to make it easier for oil to leave North America?

Environmentalists argue that we aren’t going to make any progress on mitigating climate change until we start leaving some fossil fuels in the ground. Will disallowing the pipeline really accomplish that though? It isn’t as though the oil companies will stop owning the mines that the oil is coming from, it will just cost them more to move it around once they have it out of the ground. These higher production costs would mean less is oil is pumped, or rather that it is pumped less rapidly, giving more time for alternatives to be deployed. However, these higher oil costs have a tendency to hinder the economy, which undercuts investment into alt energy technologies amongst other negative consequences.

It isn’t immediately apparent that the pipeline extension will really have any long term benefit for anyone except Canadian oil companies looking to export. On the other hand scuttling the pipeline would mean passing up potential economic growth at a relatively lean time, in which additional money rattling around the economy might actually help spur green investment. Thankfully, we have the Obama administration, which just announced more plans to push green infrastructure last week, considering the alternatives and ultimately making this decision, rather than Romney/Ryan corporate rubberstamp.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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