Members of the media are gathered next to the Mona Lisa, during an event to unveil the new lighting of Leonardo da Vinci's painting Mona Lisa, also known as La Joconde, at the Louvre museum in Paris, Tuesday June 4, 2013.
Remy de la Mauviniere/AP Photo

The Keystone pipeline isn’t the Mona Lisa

Proponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline clearly have a dilemma for which there is no easy solution: they’ve run out of talking points. When Republicans first began pushing the project in earnest, Keystone was billed as a way to lower gas prices, but with prices at the pump already having dropped, and the project itself unrelated to gas costs, the argument has faded.
The other selling point was the vast number of jobs Keystone would allegedly create, but an independent State Department study found that the project would create about 35 permanent, full-time American jobs – roughly what we’d see from “opening a new Denny’s franchise.” There would be far more temporary jobs associated with Keystone, but they’d come and go fairly quickly.
Rebecca Leber noted the other day that Keystone backers, left with limited choices, are getting creative.
According to [the American Petroleum Institute], the pipeline is just like the Mona Lisa: “One of the world’s most recognized works of art was created by a painter who made his living on temporary jobs.”
Connecting Keystone to the da Vinci masterpiece, API Vice President Linda Rozett specifically said temporary jobs can be “awesome.” Soon after, the Institute’s exec tweeted a promotional image comparing Keystone to the Sistine Chapel – because both were “temporary” jobs.
The American Petroleum Institute did not appear to be kidding.
In a way, this is an encouraging development for the health of our public discourse. Ordinarily at this point in a debate, Republicans would declare, “I reject your reality and replace it with my own. I’ve seen evidence, which I can neither share nor identify, that Keystone would create hundreds of billions of jobs, and if you disagree, you’re beholden to radical leftists.”
News organizations, reluctant to take sides, would feel compelled to tell the public, “There is disagreement over how many jobs the pipeline will create. The total would be between 35 and ‘hundreds of billions.’”
API, to its credit, is taking a more reality-based approach, conceding that the underlying facts are accurate, while at the same time making the case that temporary jobs are “awesome.”
Does the industry group have a point? Well, sort of. It’s probably best not to be too dismissive of temp jobs – they may not be as ideal as permanent jobs, but they count. That said, if U.S. policymakers are eager to create some temporary work, there’s a smarter way to achieve the same goal.
Indeed, as glad as I am to see API deal with the facts as they are, rather than just making stuff up, an argument about the merits of temporary employment is ultimately a tangent. For opponents of the pipeline, the case is simple: Keystone intends to transport oil, extracted from tar sands, through environmentally sensitive areas. The impact on the economy and the energy sector can charitably be described as “negligible.”
Yes, thousands would temporarily work to put the pipeline in the ground, but policymakers could create far more temp jobs by investing in American infrastructure – highways, bridges, rail, runways, seaports, etc. – without the environmental hazards associated with tar sands, potential leaks, and damage to wildlife habitats and wetlands.
Or put another way, the Mona Lisa it isn’t.