A basic Republican attack on President Obama is shaping up for the 2012 election: the national debt is too high, the unemployment rate is too high, and gas prices are too high.
Two of these three issues find a home in the Keystone XL pipeline—the boilerplate Republican argument is that the White House not only killed a project that could provide jobs in construction and maintenance, but also exacerbated higher gas prices by denying the markets more oil. Rick Santorum charged in Ohio yesterday that Obama’s “radical environmentalist policies” were threatening the economic recovery and driving up fuel prices. Mitt Romney has been sounding similar notes.
Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-typical problem with the Republican line on Keystone: it’s completely unsupported by the facts. On the jobs front, the Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates the project would create only 2,500 to 4,650 short-term construction jobs—not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs claimed by House Speaker John Boehner.
Similarly, gas prices would not decrease if Keystone was built—they’d likely go up in many areas of the country. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and leader of the movement to stop the pipeline, took to The Hill today to debunk this myth:
This is nonsense on many fronts, most of all because the price is oil is fundamentally set on global markets. As the Congressional Research Service pointed out in late January, when there’s trouble in places like the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil goes up for everyone and Keystone will make no difference, since the oil market is “globally integrated’; it’s not like Exxon offers a home-country discount to American motorists.
But in the case of the Keystone pipeline, it turns out there’s a special twist. At the moment, there’s an oversupply of tarsands crude in the Midwest, which has depressed gas prices there. If the pipeline gets built so that crude can easily be sent overseas, that excess will immediately disappear and gas prices for 15 states across the middle of the country will suddenly rise. Says who? Says the companies trying to build the thing. Transcanada Pipeline’s rationale for investors, and their testimony to Canadian officials, included precisely this point: removing the “oversupply’ and the resulting “price discount” would raise their returns by $2 to $4 billion a year.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, that would translate to about $3 for an average 15-gallon fill-up—as independent energy economist Philip Verleger put it, with Keystone the industry “will be able to use its market power to raise the heavy crude price to Midwest refiners above the level that would prevail in a competitive market.”
This is point worth repeating again and again. Fox News is already revving up its outrage machine over gas prices, and aiming it directly at the White House. If gas is over $4 per gallon through most of the summer, we’ll be hearing “Keystone” on the stump almost every day.