Alternative Facts: Trump’s 28,000 Keystone XL Jobs Lie

Here we are, living a scene from Groundhog Day. President Trump, on “working day two,” has revived the hopes of Canadian pipeline company TransCanada and its proposal to shove tar sands oil through America’s Heartland and out to sea where it will be sold to international markets. In doing so, he’s added to his growing list of falsities: a lie about the number of job’s Keystone XL would create for American workers if it were ever built. The number he pulls from thin air? 28,000. It’s not even a number that comes from TransCanada’s applications or from the State Department’s exhaustive, multi-year study of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. So, what are the real numbers, as provided by the company and the State Department?

There are really just two numbers that matter here, as they’re not subject to all that much debate on either side: the number of part time construction jobs created by the project, and the number of full time jobs that will remain after construction is complete. Those numbers should have been at Trump’s fingertips. But he failed to cite them, even as his memorandum fast-tracking the project states that “the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Department of State in January 2014 . . . shall be considered by the Secretary of State to satisfy” the requirements of applicable laws.

What are the numbers?

  • 35 full-time, permanent staff (and up to 15 temporary contractors)
  • 3,900 “person years of employment”

The 35 full-time staff number is easy enough to understand. That’s like adding 35 FTE to your company’s payroll. These staff members would staff TransCanada’s Nebraska office and be in charge of the pipeline’s daily operational needs. The 3,900 “person years of employment” number is a bit more complex, but it can easily be boiled down into simpler terms. This number is the same as saying that there is enough construction work related to the pipeline to support 3,900 people working full time for one year. Because the project was expected to take two years to build when it was first proposed, a more realistic way to view this number is 1,950 full time construction jobs lasting for the two year timeline of the project’s construction. Those are the numbers, new jobs certainly, but a far cry from the 28,000 he invented today in a gesture reminiscent of his claims about inaugural crowds. [1] Meanwhile, his attempt to fast-track this tar sands pipeline will do far more to enrich Canadian oil companies than it will to further invigorate the U.S. economy. Out in our nation's breadbasket, U.S. communities could now face major threats to drinking water, public health, and long-term climate stability.

Everything that was wrong with Keystone XL when it was proposed in the past is still wrong today. It’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen, a climate-wrecking project with no place in today’s energy mix, and it’s not in America’s national interest. There are easier, less contentious, and less expensive ways to create jobs—jobs that will outlast the inevitable decline of our dependence on fossil fuels and the boom and bust cycle of the environmentally destructive oil industry.

[1] The Washington Post has given Trump's "28,000 jobs. Great construction jobs" claim "three Pinocchios" during their fact-checking of the statement. In addition, they seek to estimate the total jobs created by "direct spending" on the project, which in their analysis would come mostly from manufacturing of the steel for the pipe. There are two huge problems with their use of this number: First, 50% of the steel pipe was already manufactured in America, meaning 50% of the jobs from "direct spending" have already come and gone. By State Department estimates, that's in the ballpark of 6,000 jobs (all of which the Washington Post credited to Trump's action for the sake of simplicity). Second, the order to use U.S. steel does not apply to the order fast-tracking Keystone XL, nor is such an order enforceable, as it is illegal under WTO rules, to which the U.S. is bound. The remaining pipe needed for the project was sourced and manufactured outside of the U.S. 

About the Authors

Josh Axelrod

Policy Analyst, Canada Project, International program

Join Us