Saturday, February 15, 2014

146.4 - Keystone XL and the jobs lie

Keystone XL and the jobs lie

I've got an Update about the Keystone XL pipeline. Actually, I should call it a follow-up rather than an Update, but what the heck.

Very quick reminder: The Keystone XL pipeline would move tar sands oil - the dirtiest, most polluting way to get oil there is - from a huge pit in Alberta, Canada, across the prairies of the US, to refineries in Texas, after which it will sold on the international market.

I talked last week about the State Department report on the pipeline and how supporters were trying to spin it into something virtually requiring quick approval despite the report's obvious shortcomings. The biggest shortcoming being how it tries to avoid the whole question of the major and if you will majorly bad effect of expanding tar sands production on global climate change even as it admits the pipeline will promote that expansion. The effect on the climate, the report admitted, would be like putting the exhaust from an additional 6 million cars into the atmosphere.

It also develops that the report's contention that the pipeline will have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions because the sludge would just be transported another way is a view not shared by Canadian government and industry officials. Even Ross Girling, CEO of TransCanada, the company pushing the pipeline, said that developing tar sands will be set back "for decades" if new pipelines are not available "immediately."

But what I wanted to mention here is another part of the report which has gotten less attention than it deserves: jobs.

All along, supporters have been claiming the project will create untold tens of thousands of jobs. And all along, their predictions have proved to be grossly inflated. For example, in 2012, TransCanada was claiming that the project would "create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs in the US" as well as "118,000 spin-off jobs" - nearly 140,000 jobs in total. A year later, those 20,000 construction jobs had shrunk to 9,000.

So what does the State Department report say? It claims that during construction, the project will "support" - remember that word, it's important - will "support" a total of 42,100 total jobs, "direct, indirect, and imputed." Sounds impressive until you get into the details: "Direct" means jobs actually involved in building the pipeline. There will only be about 3900 such jobs, the report concludes. "Indirect" means jobs at companies supplying materials and equipment needed for the construction project. "Imputed" refers to jobs - again - "supported" by the money those workers will spend: A pipeline worker goes into town and has dinner at a restaurant or buys a new pair of boots, the jobs of that waitperson or sales person is an "imputed" job.

What's more, after saying this, not there but on the next page, the report gets around to defining what it means by a "job," which, it turns out, is "one position that is filled for one year." Since the project is estimated to take two years, that means they're not talking about 42,000 jobs but 21,000 jobs, only 1950 of which will be in constructing the pipeline - little more than a fifth of what TransCanada claimed and less than a tenth of their original claim.

But then get this: The report even qualifies that by saying that the term "support" includes jobs that are already filled but that would be directed to support of the pipeline project. So this ever-shrinking number is not even additional jobs but includes people who are already working.

And to cap the climax, which is a great old expression, I love that expression, to cap the climax, after the thing is built, after all those jobs vanish, during its operations, how many jobs would the pipeline require in the US, according to the State Department? Fifty. Yes, 50: 35 permanent workers and 15 temporary contractors.

Interestingly, when it's talking about the 42,000 "supported" jobs, it talks about the economic stimulus involved, about all the money being pumped through the economy. But when it talks about the 50 jobs, it reassuringly says such a small number will have "eligible impacts on population, housing, and public services in the proposed Project area." That is, in each case it focuses on what looks better for the project.

Opponents haven't given up. On the day the State Dept. report came out, a call also went out for vigils to express opposition to the pipeline. Three days later, thousands of people turned out for over 250 vigils that covered all 50 states. Some vigils had just a few people; others had several hundred or over a thousand. And there are already plans being laid for both court challenges and large-scale civil disobedience should Obama approve the project.

No matter how much those who Teddy Roosevelt called "the malefactors of great wealth," those "curses to the country" who "sacrifice everything to getting wealth" - everything here including the future of the planet - those people who want us to just give up and go away, the fact is we are not about to do so.


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