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Frances Beinecke

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GOP Leadership Holds Tax Relief for American Families Hostage to Keystone Pipeline

Posted: 12/18/11 12:18 PM ET

At the insistence of Republican lawmakers, the tax bill moving through Congress includes a provision requiring President Obama to make a fast-track decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in 60 days.

This is political opportunism at its most cynical. The Keystone rider has nothing to do with tax relief. But Republican leaders used what everyone agree is the urgent need to extend the payroll tax and provide unemployment benefits to millions of Americans in order to score points with the oil industry.

They held American pocketbooks hostage in the midst of an economic crisis. They traded tax relief worth about $1,000 a year for the typical working family for a destructive boondoggle for an industry that raked in $101 billion in earnings in just the first nine months of the year.

Then they tried to claim they did it to create jobs. But even TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, says the project will only generate "hundreds" of permanent jobs.

The good news is these lawmakers have overplayed their hand.

The administration has said it cannot make an adequate decision on a nearly 1,700-mile pipeline in two months, especially when TransCanada hasn't determined its new route since the people of Nebraska demanded an alternate path. TransCanada said it could take up to 12 months to create a new route, but thanks to Congress, the clock is already ticking.

If forced under the gun to make a choice, President Obama will likely reject the project entirely.

The president said of the pipeline earlier this month, "This is a big project with big consequences. We've seen Democrats and Republicans express concerns about it. And it is my job as president of the United States to make sure that a process is followed that examines all the options, looks at all the consequences before a decision is made."

The president recognizes this pipeline project must not be rushed. He also wants to give Americans tax relief right now. He will sign the bill to deliver those tax benefits. But the bill leaves him no choice but to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

That is what Americans from across the nation have been demanding for months. Ranchers, farmers, religious leaders, business executives, union members, major campaign donors, and the more than 10,000 people who encircled the White House on November 6 have all been saying the same thing: a tar sands oil pipeline is bad for America.

It doesn't provide relief for America's oil addiction. The real purpose of this pipeline is to give tar sands producers access to international markets. In its Congressional testimony, TransCanada refused to support a condition that the oil on Keystone XL would be used in the United States. Meanwhile, TransCanada has admitted to Canadian regulators that Keystone XL will increase the price that the U.S. pays for Canadian oil by up to $4 billion.

Even as Americans watch most of the fuel go abroad, our communities would absorb the risk of transporting this highly corrosive oil. Pipeline safety regulators have admitted they cannot guarantee current standards are strong enough to ensure tar sands pipelines can be built and operated safely. TransCanada's first tar sands pipeline spilled 14 times in its first year of operation.

And there is no escaping the fact that tar sands oil accelerates climate change and the extreme weather and costly damage it creates in its wake. Extracting and processing tar sands crude generates three to four times as much greenhouse gas pollution as conventional oil. Replacing conventional fuel with tar sands from the Keystone XL pipeline would be like adding over five million more cars to the road in terms of carbon pollution.

We don't need to take these risks. We can fuel our economy without putting our nation at risk. The new clean car standard proposed by President Obama will save drivers more than $80 billion a year at the pump while cutting our oil use by more than we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010. The new Low Carbon Fuel Standard measure in California -- endorsed by auto manufacturers, veterans, health groups, and union workers at oil refineries -- will prompt oil companies to stop stalling and start investing in cleaner alternatives to petroleum.

The Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil has no place in a nation building a cleaner, more secure energy future. Republican lawmakers have forced President Obama into signing a tax bill with this 60-day Keystone provision. But now we need the president to demonstrate firm leadership and reject the Keystone XL pipeline.


This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.