I try to keep politics out of my economic analyses, and my approach is non-partisan. But sometimes I can’t avoid it because political policies can have significant economic impacts. Today is one of those times.
One of Joe Biden’s first acts as President was to kill construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a pipeline that would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Midwest United States. From there it would be moved through other pipelines or refined and distributed to gas stations and industrial users in America.
Biden’s decision was destructive for a long list of reasons.
The immediate impact was to kill about 10,000 high-paying union jobs with benefits in construction, transportation and expert services. The ripple effects were even greater. Once a pipe delivery operation is killed, the trucking company and pipe manufacturer lay off more personnel and those workers stop spending at local restaurants and so on.
But killing the pipeline accomplishes nothing from an environmental standpoint. The decision to end the pipeline is pointless because the oil still moves out of Alberta. In the absence of a pipeline, the oil moves by railroad tanker cars on rail lines owned by Warren Buffett.
Pipelines Are Better for the Environment
It’s just that the railroad uses more energy and has higher CO2 emissions than a pipeline. If you cared about the environment, you’d favor a pipeline over railroads. But opponents don’t really care about the environment, they just want to shut down the oil and gas industries completely.
Shutting the pipeline is a step in that direction. Claims about local environmental damage and crossing Native American tribal areas were just feel-good red herrings. The goal was always just to kill the pipeline. Mission accomplished. Now, the Biden administration may have done more damage than thought at first.
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