Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and the Rhetoric of Jobs

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By: Simone Lewis, Communications Intern
After years of activism from Indigenous, environmental, and community groups, TC Energy announced on June 9, 2021 that the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project would finally be terminated. The announcement ends a more than decade-long battle over fossil fuel use and the right to protect land and water sources.
I was in high school when the pipeline first started making national news because of the sustained protests from residents, farmers, and business owners along the proposed route from Montana to the Gulf Coast. The protesters voiced that the pipeline would send a flood of toxic tar sands oil – one of the dirtiest fuels in the world – through their homes and homeland, and would contribute to advancing climate change.
Now, as I enter my senior year of college, those who have never stopped fighting for their freedom from environmental stress finally have some level of peace. This is an incredible reminder of the power of grassroots mass mobilization, as well as the perseverance and struggle that is often required of citizens to protect themselves from polluting industries.
Proponents of the pipeline are criticizing its termination for sacrificing the jobs it may have created.  In fact, the State Department reported in 2014 that less than two thousand jobs would be created during the construction phase of the pipeline and that the post-construction operational phase would only require about thirty-five people. The rhetoric surrounding job creation is often used by the oil and gas industry in contrast to clean energy policies and environmental protection. Economic goals and environmental goals, however, are not inherently at odds the way these industries would like us to believe. This false rhetoric around jobs often comes from corporations and not the people living in the areas affected by infrastructure projects, like those in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. It is unacceptable that communities should be forced to choose between employment opportunities and their health and safety, though they consistently are when it comes to fossil fuel extraction and distribution. The fossil fuel industry leans on economic arguments to justify their operations, and even these arguments now are beginning to fail more and more.
I find it infuriating that our health and safety are weighed against profits, especially when environmentally safe investments can often be more profitable but are completely ignored. Solar energy, for example, has become not only the cheapest form of power but also the one with the highest potential for job creation. My generation realizes that there are alternatives to fossil fuels that create well paying, sustainable jobs and uplift communities rather than harming the environment.
If the argument is that investing in infrastructure creates jobs, then why not invest in positive infrastructure that communities can support?  Why not invest in new pipes, so that citizens can have cleaner drinking water?  Why not invest in forest waste clearing projects to lessen the environmental and economic severity of wildfires?  Why not bolster public transportation to minimize air pollution, why not strengthen landfill linings to prevent leaching, why not renovate buildings to withstand extreme weather events and why not build homes and schools to be more energy efficient. These efforts, and a properly trained workforce, can all create significant numbers of jobs and strengthen local communities’ economies, as well as face the challenges of climate change. We know job creation can be consistent with environmental justice, so it’s heartbreaking that people continue to have to put their lives on hold to protest projects that deepen injustice.
As we celebrate the victory of the activists against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, we at CHEJ are awaiting the final outcome of the infrastructure bill. It is our belief that it has the capability to provide more environmentally safe communities, strengthen our infrastructure, and provide needed job growth.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File; center, AP Photo/Evan Vucci; right; RICARDO TORRES / MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL VIA IMAGN CONTENT SERVICES LLC
 

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