Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Politics of the High-Speed Rail and the Keystone XL Pipeline

This is an editorial, below, from the New York Times.  They consider the Keystone XL Pipeline "claptrap."  Why is this so interesting?

The Republicans are staunch supporters of the building of this pipeline from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.  The Democrats and the NYT oppose it.  

On the other hand, as we all know, the Republicans staunchly oppose high-speed rail, and the Democrats support it passionately. What's going on here?

What's so disturbing are the justifications.  The same language; about jobs, the economy, reduction in foreign fuel demands, etc. permeate both projects' rhetoric. Hard, factual and empirical data about both projects are hard to come by. 

Conclusion? Both projects are far more about politics than the substantive issues of fuel in the case of the pipeline, and transit in the case of the high-speed rail. In my mind, both projects do far more harm than any possible good.

So, how do we come down on this?  We oppose both.  We believe both are "claptrap," as the article would have it about the pipeline.  Our reasoning is different in both cases, but, the bottom line on both projects is that they are egregiously harmful well beyond any possible benefits they might bestow on this nation.  Perhaps even more importantly, we oppose them as political weapons dressed in worthless hyperbole in this relentless war of Left and Right.

The problems that both projects are claimed to solve can be resolved in more rational and less debilitating ways.  In both cases we advocate for fixing what we have; that is, the current decaying infrastructure, rather than pursuing grandiose new projects such as this which are more susceptible to political self-aggrandizing.  There are many ways to bolster the economy, create jobs, improve the environment, reduce foreign oil dependence, and with far less adverse impact, than the pursuit of these ostentatious projects. 

It's yet another instance of our preferring to make small changes to large systems, rather than injecting large changes into small systems. 

Let me make my case by taking it one step further.  I resent having these issues so closely coupled to political decisions, particularly in this upcoming election. I would argue that the first victim is the truth.  I would further demand that these projects need to stand on their own merits and shortcomings, in their own terms.

In these comments, I won't trot out my own set of reasons because they invariably assume the language deployed by the advocates and opponents of both projects.  Which is to say, for example, that both project will not create anything like the promised numbers of jobs (regardless of which side makes that case). Both sides defend their positions with hyped up benefits, and deny any of the downside.  A plague on both their houses.

I have to say that I have seen videos of the landscape where oil sand excavation is taking place.  It converts the landscape to horrific moonscapes, far worse than any quarrying or even strip mining.  This oil is sulphur-intensive, costs far more than other oils to process, has lower BTU output capacity, and, if spilled, is far more toxic than any other oil. Far more, for example, than the Gulf BP oil spill oil.  

My reasons for opposing high-speed rail are the sum and substance of this blog. By now, you are familiar with these, book, chapter and verse.

I would love the luxury of being able to say I don't give a damn about the politics, but, as we all know, that is not possible, not when it is the reason for being of both projects. 

What both are really about is the money!
December 12, 2011

Keystone Claptrap
The Keystone XL oil pipeline has become the House Republicans’ weapon of choice in their fight with President Obama over jobs and taxes. Mr. Obama has said he will not make a decision on the pipeline until 2013. The Republicans are insisting that he approve it now and have attached an amendment to a bill extending the payroll tax cut in hopes of forcing his hand.

This legislative booby trap seems unlikely to make it through the Senate, and the president has all but said he would reject it if it does. But this has not stopped the House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, from using the pipeline as a political cudgel — or from wildly inflating its economic benefits.

The pipeline, known as Keystone XL, would be built by a Canadian company to carry heavy crude oil 1,700 miles from the tar sands in northern Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. It is opposed by environmentalists because extracting the oil from Canada’s boreal forests would generate more greenhouse gases than conventional oil drilling. It is opposed by politicians and voters from both parties in Great Plains states that the pipeline would cross.

Mr. Boehner calls Mr. Obama’s delay “theatrics” and described the project as a “no brainer” that will create “tens of thousands” of jobs immediately. This is a fairy tale, implying not only short-term but permanent benefits. The pipeline company, TransCanada, says the project could create 6,500 construction jobs annually, most of them temporary.

The State Department, the lead federal agency on the project, also estimates 6,500 temporary jobs. And the only independent study, conducted by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute, concludes that it may generate no more than 50 permanent jobs when the work is done.

Contrary to another favorite Republican argument, the pipeline will also do little to reduce America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Though it would provide a steady source of crude for Gulf Coast refineries, existing contracts and business plans indicate that most of their output will be destined for export.

In the Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, calls the Keystone XL “a shovel-ready project.” He and Mr. Boehner should look again at the environmental downside and at the negative public reaction along the proposed route through sensitive terrain. They should also take a look at the job numbers. The only shovel this project is ready for is the one that will bury it for good.

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