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  • Ben Thesing

A Pipeline Laid to Rest: Effects of Keystone XL Rejection on America’s Energy and the GOP Presidenti

On November 6, 2015, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Republican legislators, presidential hopefuls, and Canada’s TransCanada energy firm all decried the president’s decision as harmful to the U.S. economy. Climate activists rejoiced and have all noted the move as a defining moment in President Obama’s sometimes frowned-upon climate legacy. The plan would have extended pipelines from Alberta Canada, rich with oil sand fields, to refineries near Houston Texas. The pipeline would have been 1,179 miles at a cost of $8 billion.

In a statement regarding his decision, Obama noted the incapacity of the plan to contribute lasting economic change due to the short-term nature of many of the proposed jobs that the pipeline would create. In a direct blow to Congress, President Obama pushed legislators to pass more infrastructure-based projects across the nation, potentially resulting in “30 times as many jobs per year as the pipeline.” Yet, aside from its immediate impact on partisan feelings across the country, the rejection of the pipeline provides interesting insight into how energy demands across the U.S. may be met in the future, Obama’s climate legacy, and whether the GOP will continue fighting for the project at a legislative or candidate level.

The main question at hand is whether the United States is actually in the midst of an energy crisis: the answer is regional in nature. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that electricity consumption will increase at .8 percent per year from the present until 2040. Furthermore, the agency predicts a growing share of natural gas and renewable energy to meet the new demand. America’s trend has not been towards dirty tar oil, but rather against it. The oil is harmful in its extractive nature, and its refinery methods. Furthermore, dangers in transportation are additional sources of concern. 2040 predictions have electricity reliance on coal reduced 5 percent from 2013 levels, and a 5 percent increased reliance on renewable energy, along with a 4 percent increase of natural gas. Yet, different regions are endowed with alternative solutions. New England is now seeking market solutions, as the unsuspected closing of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts will leave the region with 13 percent less energy. Fortunately, New England residents have renewable energy solutions in the works. The Northern Pass Project is one of many proposals. The project just filed to the Site Evaluation Committee in New Hampshire, which, if approved, will run clean hydro energy from Canada through New Hampshire into New England. Energy proposals like Northern Pass help keep prices down while providing alternatives to coal and costly nuclear plants.

Across the nation, areas are turning to wind, solar, and hydro solutions to meet energy demands instead of relying on environmentally harmful fossil fuels. This reinforces the president’s claim that Keystone XL was unnecessary to bolster America’s energy standing: the United States seems to be inching away from coal, and with falling oil prices, the Keystone decision reveals the administration’s desire to reduce oil dependence as well. Additionally, improved vehicle requirements from 2012 to 2025 have estimated benefits such as reducing U.S. daily dependence on oil by half, and improved technologies will only increase domestic energy sector innovations. Whether directly or indirectly responsible, these nationwide adjustments will play in favor of President Obama’s climate legacy.

While the shift toward more climate friendly energy alternatives seems to be appearing in research on U.S. consumption habits and developments, conservative politicians continue pushing for increased oil reliance through projects like Keystone XL. Many supporters have pushed for the project in lieu of its purported job creation. Reports held short-term job creation around 80,000 for the first two years, but this dropped significantly to 35 jobs according to a 2014 State Department report. While the GOP can use short term statistics to attract supporters who do not consider long term effects, the Obama administration understood the project as providing a band-aid solution to employment: a systemic issue better addressed by stitches.

Despite the job-creation mismatch, presidential hopeful Jeb Bush described the president’s decision as an “attack on the U.S. economy and jobs.” This message echoed through Congress as Mitch McConnell has not ruled out the option of overriding the veto. Surely the oil lobby will back up any efforts with their stock interests in mind. An important reflection for the GOP is potential directions for new energy visions. While oil interests keep the candidates in line with maintaining an America fueled by oil, projects like Keystone XL are increasingly a solution of the past, and as the climate debate becomes less of an item of real debate, a Republican candidate hoping to capture independents as well as central-right voters would be correctly advised to look towards alternative options to importing oil. Furthermore, with falling oil prices, now is a grand opportunity to reach out to new sectors. Republican teamwork with the auto-industry to create newfound public alliances and take an innovative approach could attract voters not traditionally inclined to vote for a Republican.

President Obama’s decision to close America’s border to the Keystone XL project seems to be the final chapter in a seven-year story of energy-driven debate. Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, can use the president’s decision to bolster a more liberal-ideological relationship between the two states, which are essential trade partners. Climate activists will most likely consider this as one of the president’s greatest achievements. The economy will continue to place jobs where the market shows the most promise, and as oil prices fall, and new generations issue in more sustainable technology, America will likely move away from the oil and fossil fuel sector. Finally, as the 2016 presidential campaign moves onwards towards the primaries, GOP candidates will find the most support in forward-thinking energy solutions capturing jobs in America’s new economy, not in backwards-gazing critiques of a presidential veto.

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