Friday, January 20, 2012

The Opposite of Progressive

You may have heard news recently regarding the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  The Republicans are super gung-ho about it, likely because their donors desire it.  The Dems aren't so hot on it and the President himself seems to be very against it.  Like any other significant undertaking in this country people have chosen sides and started digging in rather than working together to find a proper and eloquent solution.

It's an election year, so candidates up for election are trying to pander to their base.  I've heard a number of my most liberal friends talk about how they haven't been impressed with Obama.  He hasn't really promoted an agenda that energizes his base and he's maintained some of the worst policies of Bush.  In this country we are seeing never ending wars, assassination of enemies of the state, even US citizens, re-signing of an act that allows for indefinite detention of US citizens without trail if you do something to end up on the Czar of the day's terrorist list, two bills to crack down on free speech on the internet, and Homeland Security presence at peaceful gatherings.  The president hasn't pushed much of a recent agenda that makes the unions, anti-gunners, minorities, poor or environmentalists happy.  Those are the people who voted him in and they need to turn out to the polls if he wants to win re-election.  So it's no surprise that he would want to do a song and dance about the environmental impact of this proposed oil pipeline.

But by doing so he's not only damaging the US opportunity for recession recovery and future prosperity, he's made a decision that will damage the global environment.  Did I lose you there?  It's pretty simple, actually.

Somebody will use that oil.

When gas gets to $4 a gallon, the Canadian oil sands become profitable.  It's more expensive to get it out of the ground than other reserves where the oil sits in huge pools so it hasn't made sense to tap.  But as the easy oil starts to dry up, the Canadian oil sands are the next big source of oil.

Somebody will use that oil.

Right now the players are US and China.  Canada can build a pipeline into the US to be refined at existing refineries or they can build a pipeline to their west coast and pump it into cargo ships where it will float over to China and they will build new refineries to process it and use it in their industry.  Canada has kept the China deal in their back pocket in case the US gets flaky.  They would much rather sell it to us.  But behold- we have been flaky enough on the issue that Canada's leaders are now publicly talking about the China option.  So let's take a moment and evaluate this on a global scale.  Let's think globally and act locally.

What offers a higher risk for environmental damage- an oil spill on land or an oil spill in water?

What uses more energy to turn the crude oil into a refined product- Piping it directly to existing refineries or piping it to a harbor, loading it on ships, crossing the ocean and then pumping into another pipeline in China where it will be delivered to newly manufactured refineries?

Which country is likely to adhere to industry standards for safety and pollution, China or the United States?

Which country is going to use the final product according to the best standards for pollution, China or the United States?

The answer to every question favors the building of a pipeline to the US.  The only way balking on doing that makes sense is if there were no other customers for the oil.  But if we don't drive this process the oil is going to be used by somebody else at a higher environmental cost that puts out more pollution when it's used as a final product.  We're concerned about global climate change right?  Then the best way to act locally is to support the pipeline.  This isn't rocket science, this is pretty basic stuff.

Of course China is going to keep using oil.  But doesn't it make more sense for them to continue getting their oil and natural gas from the middle east and Russia over existing infrastructure?  Doesn't it makes sense for us to get our oil from a neighboring country rather than halfway around the globe?  If we give China another cheap oil source by not embracing the idea of us using it then they will continue to expand at a tremendous rate which is bad for the global environment and bad for human rights in China. 

By pandering to the environmentalists to shore up their vote the president is actually making a decision that is more damaging to the world.  Bravo partisan politics!  If he really cared about the environment and not votes he'd have approved the project long ago and gotten his best EPA people on it to mitigate risks.  All the time spent stalling could be spend on innovation and building the pipeline to a standard that protects the environment.  Or he could approve it but only for use at refineries that meet the highest standards.  But instead he's going to stall, perhaps drive Canada to build a pipeline to serve China and end up with a Republican who is in the pocket of the oil companies to write the terms of the pipeline that enters the US. 

Everybody loses.

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