Many Lawmakers Claim Jobs Adequate Substitute for Environment

Posted by By at 20 January, at 11 : 29 AM Print

Wednesday afternoon, Pres. Obama announced he was turning thumbs down on a proposed pipeline that would carry sandy oil from Alberta, Canada, 1,800 miles across six states to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Keystone XL pipeline, according to environmentalists, is a nightmare waiting to happen.

TransCanada Corp., the company proposing the pipeline, says it will create 20,000 jobs, which it calculates from an estimated 10,000 actual construction and manufacturing workers for the two years estimated to complete the task. (Much of the manufacturing is already completed, the pipeline and related materials already purchased and ready to be assembled, so many of the jobs have already done their work and moved on to other projects.)

Other estimates are somewhat lower. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates up to 6,000 jobs, and a study by Cornell University Global Labor Institute researchers pegs the construction job total at fewer than 1,400 temporary construction jobs.

Congressman John Boehner, R-Ohio, reacted to Obama’s announcement by telling his colleagues the project would result in as many as 100,000 new jobs (in addition to his well known tears, Boehner apparently is great at producing statistical hyperbole), and its disapproval would send waves of jobs and energy security to China.

The refined product, the industry has acknowledged, will be placed on the global oil market, where it will be sold to the highest bidder – very likely an economically growing Asian nation, such as China. That’s the way the oil market works, but let’s don’t pretend it’s going to do much for U.S. energy independence.

The oil industry has not given up on Keystone XL. Republicans continue to search for ways to force approval of the pipeline, and even Obama said he turned down the application because of “arbitrary deadlines” set by congress, not because of environmental concerns. One can hope environmental lobbyists continue to pay attention.

Fuel from dead dinosaurs continues to occupy Pennsylvania legislators who may, within the next two weeks, come to a decision about taxing Marcellus shale development in the Commonwealth.

To its credit, WITF StateImpact reported Thursday, the legislature has just sent a bill to Gov. Tom Corbett that requires drillers to post GPS coordinates at each well site. Some counties already have required the information, but with the governor’s signature it will become a statewide requirement. At least when an emergency situation occurs, any crewmember who makes the call to 9-1-1 can have the exact location of the site readily available.

Valuable as that information is for emergency responders, it does not address the question of how much developers should pay in their quest for profit beneath our state, and how responsible they should be for problems created by their activities. Gov. Corbett promised his natural gas industry campaign contributors there would be no taxes on the Marcellus developers. His loyal constituents would be pleased to have jobs and the income tax from workers and property owners who have leased their land to gas developers.

“While the industry is making a contribution, it’s still a modest one,” Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said last fall. “Certainly the industry is not paying for the full cost of the variety of impacts it’s having on roads, emergency responders, all of that. Those costs are really being borne by local government and local taxpayers.”

Yet while polls show 70 percent of the state’s populace favors a significant severance tax, and would likely support the lawmakers who levy it, so far the legislature appears poised to help the governor keep his promise.

This amid growing evidence that fracking – the increasingly controversial method of releasing natural gas from shale formations more than a mile and-a-half below ground – may not be in the long-term best environmental interests of Pennsylvania or the nation.

Recently, earthquakes in Ohio were attributed to a deep well that had been in use about a year before the ground started slipping and sliding. Chemical-laden waste water has been dumped into treatment plants unequipped to remove the hazardous elements before dumping them into our rivers. And chemical spills have,and likely will again, force nearby residents to trade their wells for taxpayer-purchased water.

On the other side of the planet, Bulgaria, which depends heavily on Russia for its energy needs, this week told natural gas developers “no fracking.” In a part of the world not known for representative styles of government, Bulgaria listened to protests about earthquakes, possible destruction of water supplies and other harmful effects on the environment, and decided to wait and see how things work out here before they put their own treasury on the hook for cleanup costs.

Thirty-five other states producing natural gas from shale levy taxes at four-to-six percent. As 2011 ended, the Pa. House and Senate were arguing over whether to make the tax two percent, or one percent.

Meanwhile, Corbett’s 2012 budget allows taxpayers to continue subsidizing fossil fuel production, but cuts funding that would help alternative energy producers and conservation efforts. He says the alternative energy industry is mature and does not need taxpayer help. But he says the Marcellus industry needs taxpayer support or it will leave the state, taking its jobs with it.

Interestingly, he may be at least partially correct. The commonwealth is in the top third of states generating electricity from wind power, and that involves jobs.

In a state that appears to be nearly a half billion dollars short, it seems we could ask for a better share of what we have rather than resolve our cash woes by cutting funding to environmental protection, education of our future workers, and maintenance of our roads and bridges.

Photo by Tom Owad
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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