Americans are concerned about President-elect Biden’s campaign pledge to veto the Keystone pipeline. And they should be. Keystone is a new oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, that will bring an additional 830,000 barrels a day to the US. Much of it — including the border crossing — is already built. Completing Keystone means new jobs, affordable gasoline, and energy security. A presidential veto would kill all of these.
But here’s the good news. Politicians often say one thing to get elected and then do something quite different when they win. And there’s good reason to think that President Biden will be more pragmatic than candidate Biden.
For the past 12 months, Joe Biden had to prioritize winning the support of the progressive or “Woke” wing of the Democratic Party. First in the primaries—when he was competing with the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — and then in the general election — when he needed the progressives to turn out in large numbers to beat Trump. To win this political marathon, Biden endorsed the Green New Deal and made the promise to veto Keystone. It worked. But now as president, Biden faces a new set of even bigger challenges, and the political value of the Woke wing of his party is rapidly declining.
First there was no “Blue Wave” for the Democrats. Indeed, quite the opposite. Americans voted to get rid of Trump but not the Republican Party. They dumped the cowboy but kept his horse. Biden won, but by a much narrower margin than predicted. Republicans held their majority in the Senate, 50 to 48, pending the outcome of two run-off elections in Georgia on January 5 — at least one of which they will win. In the House of Representatives, Republicans actually gained seats, narrowing the Democratic majority to only 13 seats. At the state level, Republicans won 8 of 11 governor elections, with a net gain of one, Montana. And they now control majorities in both chambers in 32 of the 50 state governments — the most they have ever held.
Bottom line: American voters did not give Biden and the Democrats any “mandate” for their big-ticket policy promises. To implement these, Biden is going to have to negotiate and horse-trade with Republican senators — all of whom support Keystone.
Second, Biden inherits the same no-win dilemma that eventually defeated Donald Trump: how to strike a balance between COVID and jobs. This is a zero-sum game. Progress in one direction entails regress in the other. For Biden, it is going to get worse. The current explosion in COVID infections shows no sign of letting up. The intermediate cause — private social gatherings — will spike over Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year’s. More lockdowns are coming. And more lockdowns mean more business closures and job losses. In Biden’s first year as president, job creation will rival COVID as Americans’ highest priority.
Which brings us to Keystone. Approved by President Trump in 2017, the pipeline is already half-built. In August, TC Energy signed $1.6 billion dollars of contracts with six major US union contractors to build the next stage of the pipeline. In 2021, these contracts will employ more than 8,000 union workers in three different states — including Montana — generating $900 million in gross wages. Predictably, US trade unions — key members of the Democratic Party’s political base — have supported Keystone from the start. To veto Keystone will be to veto 8,000 jobs.
Last but not least is the national security dimension of energy self-sufficiency. Over 7,000 young American men and women have died fighting in the Middle East since 1990. And this wasn’t just “to bring democracy” to that region. Oil remains not only the most valuable commodity in the global economy, but also the most strategically important. Armies, navies and air forces all run on oil. (Link/See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCiXz1a6jto)
China and Russia know this, which is why they continue to intervene in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Iran to undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize the region. Nor has the threat of radical Muslim terrorism disappeared. The Taliban and Hezbollah have more supporters, more money, and more technology than Al-Qaeda had before the 9/11 attacks on America. The Middle East remains as dangerous and unstable today as it was in 2000.
Thanks to fracking, the U.S. has reduced but not eliminated its dependence on imported oil from the Middle East. The U.S. still imports 9 million barrels of oil a day — 13 percent from the Persian Gulf countries. The good news for Americans is that Canada has replaced OPEC as the largest supplier of imported oil. Over 50% of U.S. oil imports now come from western Canada.
Keystone when completed would add an additional 830,000 barrels a day to U.S. imports of Canadian oil. This is why climate-change activists so strongly oppose Keystone. But they ignore completely the strategic value of Canadian oil. As former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer pointedly observed, “You don’t have to send the national guard into Alberta.”
This truth may not resonate with the higher-income, professional, urban supporters of the Green New Deal, because neither they nor their children have been dying in Middle East wars. But the opposite is true for American blue collar, trade union families. A disproportionate share of our now all-volunteer military come from these families. For them, the value of energy security is personal and real.
Alberta, Canada, has the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world — after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. So in the coming decades, which do we want to rely on for energy security?
It’s time to get the message to Washington: Keystone will benefit American families. Keystone means jobs. Keystone means affordable energy. Keystone means not having to send our sons and daughters to fight endless wars in the Middle East.
Ted Morton, a former Canadian politician in the Progressive Conservative party who held several key posts in Alberta government, is retired. He lives in Whitefish.
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