Jobs take center stage in Keystone fight

When U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue proclaimed that the Keystone XL pipeline would create 250,000 jobs, he touched a nerve in the environmental community.

“That’s just not true,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, told reporters Friday, calling Donohue’s jobs estimate “wildly inflated.”

It’s a familiar refrain from the environmental community, which has been working overtime in recent weeks to counter Republican and industry claims that the 1,700-mile pipeline would create a mini job boom in the United States. 

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The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is increasingly becoming a knock-down, drag-out fight over jobs.

And with President Obama slated to make a decision on the pipeline by Feb. 21 under a provision included in a payroll tax cut package, the pressure is on.

The fight over jobs is a pivotal issue in the Keystone XL war. Green groups have seized on the issue, realizing that their concerns about the environmental implications of the project are not enough to counter Republican support for the project. And the GOP hopes to inflict political damage on Obama going into the 2012 election by arguing that the rejection of the pipeline would be a missed opportunity to mend the ailing economy.

Supporters of the pipeline, armed with a handful of industry-sponsored studies, say the pipeline will create 20,000 temporary construction and manufacturing jobs in the short term, along with hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs in the coming decades.


But opponents of the project, who have studies of their own, say the numbers are significantly lower.

The 20,000 job figure comes from a study commissioned by TransCanada Corp., the company hoping to build the pipeline. As the Feb. 21 deadline for Obama to issue a final verdict on the project approaches, TransCanada released a more detailed explanation of its job estimate this week.

Construction of the pipeline will create about 13,000 temporary jobs, according to TransCanada. That’s 500 workers for each of the 17 pipeline segments, 100 workers for each of the 30 pump stations, 600 jobs at various construction camps and 1,000 jobs focused on management and inspection. 

In addition, TransCanada estimates that the project will result in 7,000 manufacturing jobs at companies that make key components of the pipeline.

“These are new, real U.S. jobs,” TransCanda CEO Russ Girling said in a statement this week.

Pipeline supporters also say the pipeline will create hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs. Many of those jobs would come from ramped up petrochemical, plastics and fertilizer production along the pipeline route. Supporters even count increased tourism and new restaurants in the figures.

Environmental groups say the industry jobs numbers are greatly exaggerated, citing a study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute.

The study says the pipeline will create “no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years.”

The pipeline “will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work,” the study says.

Lara Skinner, associate director of research at Cornell’s Global Labor Institute, said TransCanada’s job numbers are artificially high because the company inflated how much the pipeline will cost to build in the United States.

Skinner also said that TransCanada ignored the fact that many of the jobs it cites won’t last the full two years it will take to build the pipeline. 

“TransCanada’s numbers are unsubstantiated,” Skinner told reporters Friday on a conference call organized by the NRDC. “The U.S. needs a jobs plan, but Keystone XL is not it.”

Opponents of the project also point to a study by the State Department that says the project will result in about 5,000 construction jobs.

TransCanada dismissed the Cornell study and the criticism from environmental groups Friday.

“Why groups like NRDC and Cornell continue to question job creation in the United States is a concern,” TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said. “None of them are pipe engineers or experts.

“We fully understand the jobs that are needed to build a piece of infrastructure of this size. We like to think of ourselves as the experts.”

Martin Durbin, a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the powerful oil industry trade group, echoed TransCanada’s comments.

“The allegations they are putting out there are a sideshow,” he said.