Pipelines and pipe dreams

Whom does Barack Obama want to please more — out-of-work adults who would love a high-wage job building the Keystone XL pipeline or tony venture capitalists who travel cloistered in private jets when they’re not complaining that Washington doesn’t do enough about global warming?

On Wednesday night, the president attended a $5,000-a-head cocktail fundraiser, hosted by climate change capitalist Tom Steyer. On Tuesday, Steyer, who has been both a big Democratic donor and a vocal opponent of the Keystone pipeline, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci that the president “knows exactly what’s right on this issue, and he knows what to do.”

Steyer added that he is “super-optimistic that if we make clear” the pipeline’s cost to the health of Americans and the U.S. economy, “people will agree … and political action will follow.”

Steyer must think his money talks more loudly than the American people. A new Pew Research Center poll found that 66 percent of Americans support the pipeline; a mere 23 percent oppose it. That’s probably because the State Department estimates that the $7 billion project would create 3,900 construction jobs annually. In January, 53 senators, including nine Democrats, sent a letter that urged the president to approve the project.

The president should heed public sentiment and approve Keystone. The pipeline fits with his promise of an “all-of-the-above policy” that utilizes “every source of American-made energy” — both green energy and fossil fuels.

It’s “shovel-ready.”

American oil promotes energy independence. The pipeline would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands and the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana. Canada is an esteemed neighbor with strong trade reciprocation and a solid human rights record.

The Sierra Club calls the project “the dirtiest oil project in the country.” It’s not a pristine process. Extraction from tar sands releases more carbon into the atmosphere than other methods and leaves behind the sort of toxic ponds that can make even a Republican think, “Thank God for regulation.”

There are mitigations, however, such as the lesser environmental toll involved in moving oil a shorter distance (from Canada, not Venezuela) via pipeline.

To true believers of global warming, however, Keystone’s passage represents “game over” in their effort to block new energy exploration. In the name of science, they ignore technology and the reality of today’s global economy. To wit: If Keystone doesn’t move Alberta’s oil, someone else will, and someone else — read: China — will use it.

Don’t take my word for it. New York Times environmental blogger Andrew C. Revkin recently wrote that in the global oil market, “it’s high demand that drives the oil-extraction imperative. Until you start to do the things we’ve been talking about to cut demand, you can blockade a certain pipeline or whatever but that oil will out. … It’ll be Nigeria or the Arctic if it’s not Alberta.”

In 2008, I asked Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton where it would be OK to drill in California, and he refused to name any new projects.

Global warming’s true believers seem to think that if they block smart projects, the laws of economics will evaporate and America will produce cheap green energy at no cost to anyone. Not in the real world.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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