The truth behind the job numbers: Keystone XL will hurt more than help job creation

The new Republican majorities in Congress are once again trying to force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline but they aren't changing their incorrect talking points about how many jobs the risky project would create. Pipeline backers cite inflated job numbers, misleading the public. The truth is that, according to the State Department, the pipeline will create 35 permanents jobs and 1,950 construction jobs for two years. NRDC expert Anthony Swift took a deeper dive on the job numbers here. Meanwhile, a spill from the pipeline—a virtual inevitability—would threaten tens of thousands jobs of Americans living along its route. Keystone XL will hurt not help job creation in America. Calling Keystone XL a job creator is a distraction when real job creation will come from more investments in clean energy.

Lately, backers of Keystone XL are touting the notion that Keystone XL would create 42,000 jobs, a number they say comes from the State Department. But that is not the number of direct jobs the State Department claims would result from the Keystone XL project. Rather, it's a theoretical estimate of all the short-term, indirect effects of the spending by the relatively small number of people that would be hired for Keystone XL. (There's a reason that proponents don't like to cite the direct, actual job numbers—they don't sound impressive.) The Washington Post set the record straight today explaining that it is disingenuous to make these claims.

The standard thing to do when talking about projects is to talk about direct job creation. When NRDC talks, for example, about the number of jobs created by clean energy companies—a number that swamps the number of Keystone XL positions—we're talking about the number of jobs directly created by those companies. We don't pad the number with estimates of all the other jobs that may be created throughout the economy because of the money spent by the actual people hired to work on clean energy. Any job has ripple effects, but for accuracy, one usually counts the direct jobs created not the ripples.

It's little wonder, then, that President Obama has tried to set the record straight:

"If my Republican friends really want to focus on what's good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I'm happy to have that conversation."

Keystone XL would hurt more than help job creation

All the debate about how many jobs Keystone XL would create has obscured information on the number of jobs it would put at risk. A spill of heavy tar sands oil from the pipeline could create a major loss of jobs in America's heartland. According the University of Nebraska study, Keystone XL would likely experience 91 major spills from the pipeline over the 50-year lifetime of the project. Pipeline spills regularly happen and the pipeline would cut through America's breadbasket. Two major tar sands spills in Michigan and Arkansas have proven to be difficult to clean up and extremely costly.

According to a report by the Cornell Global Labor Institute, agricultural and rangeland comprise 79 percent of the land that would be affected by the pipeline. It would cross over a thousand bodies of water including the Missouri, Yellowstone rivers and straight through one of America's largest aquifers—the Ogallala—which supplies 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S. Over 500,000 people are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the states traversed by the pipeline—a sector that generates billions of dollars. The pipeline also crosses recreation, federal public lands, state parks and forests where thousands of workers are employed in the tourism sector.

Hundreds of business owners have argued that the pipeline would impose nearly $100 billion in climate-related costs on the economy while undermining the U.S. commitment to a transition to clean energy. The American Sustainable Business Council, representing more than 200,000 businesses across the country, has called on the administration to reject the pipeline.

Real job creation comes from clean energy

We'd be much better off supporting job creation through clean energy. If we compare Keystone XL against other energy projects, clean energy job creators are clear winners. In just the third quarter of last year, 18,000 new clean energy jobs were created nationwide. Investments in clean energy create four times as many jobs as the same amount of investment in petroleum-based project. A $150 billion energy investment in the fossil fuel industry would create 788,567 jobs while that same investment would create 2,505,732 jobs from clean energy investments.

Keystone XL not a national jobs plan, and Transcanada isn't looking to lay down a pipeline to the Gulf to create U.S. jobs. If anything, a spill of heavy and dangerous tar sands poses untold risks to water supplies and jobs in the communities through which the pipeline passes. It threatens far more jobs of hardworking Americans than it would create. If Congress is concerned about jobs—and it should be—then Congressmen and Senators ought to be spending their first weeks back in town coming up with ways to create good, permanent jobs, not dreaming up ways to exaggerate the impacts Keystone XL.

About the Authors

Danielle Droitsch

Senior Policy Analyst, Canada Project

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