Just a few weeks ago it seemed that President Obama struck a fatal blow to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, when he decided to delay a review of the project until after the November elections. That may not have been quite enough to kill the massive project outright, but another devastating blow came just before Christmas when House Republicans attached a rider to the new spending bill that all but forces the Administration to quash the project sooner rather than later. While the maneuver reeks of election year politics, it does give us a renewed opportunity to hash out exactly what the pipeline would contribute to sustainable economic growth in the US. For help, we turn to a recent article about job creation in the Detroit Free Press.
Creating New Jobs in the U.S.A.
As profiled by Free Press business writer Katherine Yung, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority has just approved a $1. 2 billion package of brownfields reclamation projects throughout Michigan that will create more than 7,600 jobs. Many of the jobs are related to new factories for renewable energy and energy efficiency products. Two highlights are a $250 million solar cell factory near Saginaw for Georgia-based Suniva, and a $237 million factory at Ford’s idled plant in Wixom for Maryland-based Townsend Energy Solutions, which will be partly dedicated to manufacturing parts for energy efficient vehicles as well as technologies for smart grid applications.
Sustainable Jobs for US Communities
In terms of sustainable growth in the US, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority projects win on multiple counts. As a group, they restore blighted properties within or close to existing communities, which can have a ripple effect on the value of other nearby properties. By making new use of pre-developed land, they help avoid new construction on virgin land, or land used by agriculture or livestock operations. Because the new factories are in or close to existing population centers, they create opportunities for local hiring, which contributes to family and community stability. Restoring growth to existing communities also helps to extend the lifespan of existing infrastructure including roads, bridges, and utility systems as well as schools, hospitals and other public buildings. On top of these community benefits, projects like the aforementioned Suniva and Townsend Energy Solutions facilities contribute to the country’s transition toward safer, more secure, less costly and more efficient ways to generate, transmit and use energy.
The Keystone XL Pipeline and Job Creation
If you’re not familiar with the Keystone XL Pipeline, it is a project of the Canadian Company TransCanada, designed to convey oil from the Alberta tar sands through the midwestern U.S., and on down to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline is touted as a major infrastructure project that will pump $7 billion into the US economy and create 20,000 jobs, but according to a study of the Keystone XL Pipeline by Cornell University, both figures are wildly inflated. In terms of job creation the new Michigan initiative alone easily matches the Keystone pipeline, and there are many more brownfields reclamation/alternative energy projects under way at the state and federal level, such as the U.S. EPA’s Re-Powering America’s Land program.
New Jobs for a New Energy Future
Keystone also fails to match up to some important sustainable growth markers. The jobs it creates are for the most part temporary construction jobs in remote areas that contribute nothing to long term community well being and stability. The pipeline itself would cut through non-industrialized lands rather than reclaiming derelict, pre-developed sites, and it would do nothing to advance the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global alternative energy market. In sum, the Keystone pipeline is an infrastructure project more in tune with the heyday of transnational rail construction, rather than anything useful or relevant to modern standards of economic development.
What Comes Next for the Keystone Pipeline
The Keystone rider set a two-month deadline for the Administration to approve or disapprove the project. However, the State Department has already asserted that two months is not nearly enough time to conduct the review it customarily undertakes for a cross-border project, so President Obama could start off the New Year by declaring the Keystone Pipeline d.o.a without even waiting for the deadline to come up – or he might decide to push it through, regardless of what we at TriplePundit think about it. If you have any clue what direction this thing might take, please share it with us in the comment thread.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.