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Keystone Pipeline challenges economy vs. environment

By Jamila Tull
On February 16, 2014

If America has any goal at all of weaning itself off of fossil fuels and "dirty energy," it's hard to tell based on recent political activity.

Debates have become more vicious as environmental activists and Keystone XL Pipeline supporters grapple to make their voices heard on the controversial issue.

In 2009, TransCanada submitted its first application for permits to build the 1,700-mile pipeline, which will carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Steele, Nebraska, and then, finally, to the Gulf of Mexico for exportation. Supporters of the pipeline claim the economic benefits outweigh the risks, but they are missing the big picture: Oil from the pipeline will not be used to directly benefit American citizens.

Florida A&M environmental science professor Charles Jagoe, who studies the effects of oil and other pollutants on fish and wildlife, said the pipeline will provide very little economic benefit to U.S. citizens.

"Most of the oil will end up in Asia," Jagoe said. "There will be economic benefit to the Canadian company and the refineries, but the United States will be left holding the bag if any leaks or contamination come from the pipeline."

And the surrounding environment will be left to suffer the consequences as well.

The Final Supplemental Environment Impact Statement published by the United States Department of State demonstrated that any possible leak will be small but not unlikely. The 79 percent probability of even a small leak is troublesome when considering the "1,073 surface water bodies including 56 perennial rivers and streams as well as approximately 24 miles of mapped floodplains" along with countless farms and residential areas the pipeline will be crossing.

Even still, supporters are willing to overlook the environmental impact because of the possibility of an increase in jobs. The Environmental Impact Statement went on to state that "42,100 jobs (direct, indirect and induced)" will be the outcome of the project. But those jobs are only there temporarily for the one- to two-year project, and only "50 jobs [will be held] during operations." So we'll be back to square one once the project is complete. Renewable resources such as wind, hydroelectric and solar energy also create jobs.

A study conducted in 2004 at the University of California at Berkley concluded that "across a broad range of scenarios, the renewable energy sector generates more jobs than the fossil fuel-based energy sector per unit of energy delivered."

Renewable resources require more innovation, but they are the safest and cleanest way to enhance national security and international stability. This pipeline is far from the best option.

In addition, supporters are still mesmerized by the opportunity to capitalize on this project because the Canadian tar sands will still be exploited, whether the United States gets its hands dirty or not. The Impact Statement states that "construction of the proposed Project would contribute approximately $3.4 billion (or 0.02 percent) to the U.S. gross domestic product."

But the U.S is in the prime position to take a different path and set an example to the rest of the world that we are indeed energy leaders, and we are making strides toward a more sustainable future.

It's easy to pick the solution that is most convenient and provides the most instant gratification, but in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry, "We need to find the courage to leave a far better legacy."

All we can do is hope that President Barack Obama will find that courage as he makes his final decision on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

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