Monday, November 24, 2014

Keystone XL Pipeline or Let’s Make a Deal

Republicans want President Obama to authorize construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Many (though not all) Democrats and President Obama are opposed to the pipeline. Unfortunately, like most issues, reasonable debate on the merits (or lack thereof) and risks of the project have been largely drowned out by basic talking points, some of which have little or no basis in reality.

The point of this post isn’t to address the issue of whether the pipeline should be given the green light; rather, I’d like to look at an alternate way to address the politics of the issue (and of similar issues): Let’s make a deal.

Supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline argue that it will create 20,000-40,000 jobs. Some go even further and say permanent jobs (not just construction jobs). They also say that the pipeline will be good for the American economy and that the environmental risks are minimal. Opponents argue that very few jobs will be created (and that few of those will be permanent), that the environmental risks are great, and that the economic impact to the US will be negligible. Who is right? Who cares. Rather than worry about stupid things like facts and risk analysis (which seem to be anathema to some…), let’s just take each side’s views and see what kind of deal we can make.

For example, supporters believe that the pipeline will create jobs. OK. We should all be thrilled if the pipeline were to, indeed, create those jobs. But what if the jobs don’t materialize or don’t materialize to the extent promised by supporters? So here is my idea: Opponents of the pipeline should agree to construction of the pipeline but with caveats. Come up with a standard by which jobs will be measured; if the jobs are created and meet that standard, then things are good. But if not enough jobs are created, then the minimum wage automatically increases by 25%. If supporters of the pipeline are so sure that the jobs will be created, then this should be an easy deal to make, right? And opponents, who are equally sure that the jobs won’t be created, will be getting something that they want when those jobs don’t materialize, right? Win win, no?

Similarly, opponents could suggest that the authorization law include a provision that automatically increases EPA funding or imposes some sort of strict liability and penalty in the event of a spill from the pipeline. Again, if supporters are so sure that the environmental risks of a spill are so low, then they should be willing to jump on this sort of deal, right?

And this sort of model could be applied to all manner of different issues. For example, think about proposed bans on fracking in certain locales. Would supporters of fracking be willing to accept the right to obtain their oil (which they say doesn’t lead to environmental issues) if, in exchange for drilling rights, the CEO and board of directors of the drilling companies had to agree to drink water taken from wells in and around where the fracking is being done? If fracking really is so safe, then there shouldn’t be any harm in drinking water from those wells, right? Similarly, would supporters of fracking be willing to waive being shielded from personal liability by the corporate shield if fracking is demonstrated to be a cause of earthquakes?

What about school vouchers? I suspect that we could devise standards to measure whether students making use of the vouchers are being well-served. If so, then great. But if not, then perhaps more money could be allocated to public schools.

I’m not sure that this model for legislation is really how our system is supposed to work. But right now, our system isn’t working. So maybe a high-risk game of “let’s make a deal” would be a way forward, at least temporarily. And, if one side isn’t willing to make a deal, then that might prompt voters to look at the facts behind that side’s assertions and ask whether the assertions might be unsupported by facts.

Oh, and if you want to know my thoughts about the Keystone XL Pipeline: I’m opposed for several reasons. First, I don’t think it will create that many jobs. The numbers that I’ve seen (sorry, but I don’t have the time to find links right now…) suggest a far lower number of jobs and that few of them will be permanent. When you compare that to the potential risk of building a massive pipeline over wilderness and above aquifers, then I don’t see the gain as being worthwhile. Furthermore, why does the pipeline need to cross the US at all? This is for a Canadian company selling Canadian oil. Why can’t the pipeline go to Vancouver or the Canadian east coast (or even north toward the Arctic Circle)? If the oil was to be used in the US, I might agree, but it’s my understanding that the oil will be refined in the US but be exported for sale abroad. How exactly does that help our economy? And how does that offset the risk of environmental catastrophe (remember that the sort of oil we’re talking about is widely considered to be the “dirtiest” form of oil)? But if supporters wanted to make a deal to get my support in exchange for something that I favor…

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At Tuesday, December 02, 2014 9:29:00 AM , Blogger Reuben said...

I like your "Let's Make a Deal" reference. If you're so sure about anything then put your butt on the line.


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