A “rancorous” public debate over a $7 billion oil pipeline from Canada through the US highlights a more common debate among policy-makers: assessing the value of trade-offs.
“We need the jobs, it’s that simple,” said Bret Marshall, 53, a laborer’s union worker who said he hoped to get work on the line and drove more than 700 miles across Montana to be here for Tuesday night’s hearing.
The State Department concluded last month that the project, Keystone XL, would cause minimal environmental impact if it was operated according to regulations, and the operator, TransCanada, has said the nearly 2,000-mile line would create 20,000 jobs in the United States. Opposition groups around the country, though, said the federal study did not consider the effects of a major spill, while supporters said the nation’s economy had continued to worsen, making Keystone XL all the more crucial.
This is a classic trade-off: jobs versus environmental protection. Ideally there would not be a conflict, but we don’t live in that ideal, win-win world. Environmentalists have a strong case to make, but it is hard to make it when one-sixth of the American workforce is either unemployed or discouraged from looking. The priority now must be on job creation. When we again have full employment we can discuss such environmental impacts. For the time being, unless that impact is quite significant, it must wait. Obama was correct when, earlier this month, he asked the EPA to withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
On that decision, the LA Times reported:
Environmental groups swiftly criticized the decision as the most recent surrender by the administration to the business lobby. “The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski. “This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.”
It wasn’t just a political move, it was an economic decision. If he was “caving” to something, it was to the priority of job creation. It is a well-understood trade-off, whether the environmental groups choose to acknowledge it or not.