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Thursday, March 15, 2012 09:37 am

Keystone pipeline can bring prosperity to Illinois

The Obama administration recently announced its decision to reject construction of Keystone XL – a planned, state-of-the-art petroleum pipeline to carry crude oil from the oil sands of Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

Officials said they weren’t opposed to the project overall – they just didn’t have enough time to conduct a sufficiently thorough review of Keystone, given the deadline imposed on them.

Nevertheless, this decision falls particularly hard on America’s unemployed. Keystone was predicted to create tens of thousands of much-needed jobs, both by directly employing construction personnel and stimulating job growth in communities along the pipeline’s pathway. Those employment prospects were the big reason the project had received such wide support in both parties – and from union and business leaders alike.

Here in Illinois, with unemployment still at 10 percent, the jobs Keystone represented are desperately needed. Nationally, while overall unemployment has dropped slightly in recent weeks, the rate in the construction trades has actually jumped to over 16.2 percent.

According to a study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, the project was predicted to create nearly 15,000 local jobs immediately and an additional 27,000 over the next 13 years. For unemployed workers counting on these would-be jobs – and for a labor community looking for some help from a Democratic president – the administration’s decision is deeply disappointing.

Rushing approval for the pipeline would certainly have been reckless. But the reality is that this project has been under review for more than four years.  In fact, two congressmen from Illinois, Rep. John Shimkus and Rep. Donald Manzullo, signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2010 urging her to “expeditiously approve” the Keystone XL project. That was more than a year ago, when Illinois state unemployment was “just” 9.2 percent.

Rep. Shimkus sounded the bell again this summer when he informed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee what the pipeline could do for Illinois: a $2.8 million increase in industry output and a $1.4 million increase in state GDP. Sadly, his words went unheard.  

The decision to pass up stronger energy ties with Canada is foolish for national security as well. Studies show that the amount of crude we could be importing through the Keystone Pipeline would equal nearly 6 percent of our total daily imports in 2010. That’s enough to replace what we now receive from Oman, Chad, Algeria and Iraq combined. Who wouldn’t rather see that money go to our neighbors to the north?

Once again, Rep. Shimkus framed the choice eloquently in his remarks to Congress: “Pipelines versus tankers from places that we’re going to war with.” Which method for receiving oil makes you feel safer?

Waiting inside this pipeline are $20 billion in new spending for the U.S. economy, an increase of $6.5 billion in the personal income of Americans and more than $585 million in additional state and local taxes, according to an independent economic study released by the Perryman Group in June 2010.

After four years reviewing this project, the White House was finally forced to make a decision, thanks to a provision in the December payroll tax bill. The result, however, was not what America’s unemployed had hoped for or what this country needed.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground yet to be occupied. In its decision, this administration specifically said that its concerns were confined to the 20 percent or so of the pipeline that would run through the Sand Hills region in Western Nebraska and the Ogallala aquifer.

The rest of Keystone has undergone years and years of in-depth environmental review and been found safe. So while the country waits for a full approval of the entire project, this administration should okay construction on these parts – and start stimulating the job growth Americans are looking for.

Larry T. Shedwill Jr. of Manteno is a journeyman welder for UA Pipeliners Local Union 798 in Illinois.

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