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Why Would the Illinois General Assembly Want to Increase Gas Prices?

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Visit NRDCs Switchboard BlogIt is official. Chicago is in the grips of the highest gas prices in its history. With that reality firmly shoved up our noses, you would think that lawmakers would do everything they can to help the situation, not make it worse. Right?

Well, not in Illinois. A bill just introduced into the Illinois General Assembly gives a full-throated call of support for diverting oil out of the region, which would likely result in further cost increases for fuel here and across the Midwest.

The bill is HR 877. It urges the U.S. Congress to push approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial tar sands pipeline project to connect the dirty tar sands oil mines in Alberta with refineries in Houston. The problem for Illinoisans is that the pipeline will result in higher priced oil in the region. That is a cost likely to be passed on to consumers in the form of increased gas prices -- some estimates say an increase of $.25 per gallon throughout the middle of the country. And the diverted oil will go to the Gulf for export out of the United States. (Yes: export. Even now, despite record gas prices, the United States is a net exporter of finished petroleum products and the Keystone XL pipeline will help increase the trend.)

Perhaps more galling than just advocating for increased gas prices in Illinois, the bill directly or indirectly repeats an array of debunkedmyths and mistruths about the pipeline that have been knocked down in the national media repeatedly. I am not sure if the bill's sponsors haven't bothered to crack a newspaper or just don't care, but here are some clear issues with the bill:

The bill implies that it will give gas price relief. As noted above, nothing could be further from the truth here in Illinois. The Keystone XL pipeline is designed specifically to increase oil prices in the Midwest, something specifically noted in the pipeline builder’s own filings, which is in turn, likely to increase gas prices paid in much of the middle of the country.

Here is NRDC’s fact sheet on the subject: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/keystone-oil-prices.pdf

But don’t take my word for it. Check out these articles from across the nation:

The bill implies there will be lots of jobs. They wisely avoid including any actual numbers in the bill text, probably because the claims of massive employment windfalls have been debunked again and again. The pipeline builder told CNN “hundreds, certainly not thousands” of permanent jobs. The State Department guesses 20.

Here is NRDC’s fact sheet on the subject: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/keystonejobs-4pgr.pdf 

But don’t take my word for it. Try some of these folks: The bill whines about “delays in permitting” the pipeline. Of course, the bill sponsors don’t mention that a final map of the pipeline does not even exists at the moment. The pipeline builder is in the midst of diverting the route away from the sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska and Ogallala Aquifer after a public uproar from ranchers and farmers about safety concerns that could ruin the largest source of fresh water in the Great Plaines. The raw tar sands oil likely to course through the Keystone XL pipeline presents unique safety issues due to its thick and acidic nature. This is something the bill sponsors should be aware of due to their proximity to the first Keystone pipeline which terminates in eastern Illinois -- it sprang more than 30 leaks on both sides of the US-Canada border in its first year of operation alone and has the dubious distinction of being the youngest pipeline to be shut down by the federal government as a threat to human health and safety.

The bill implies that the pipeline makes us more energy secure and calls on the Department of Defense to support the pipeline. I don’t know why they are bringing the Department of Defense into this, but our armed services are doing everything they can to cut their dependence on oil; all oil. They are investing heavily in energy efficiency and aggressively using renewables as both a smart economic and smart security move. They are studying and testing biofuels. And have repeatedly said that climate change that is resulting from our dependency on fossil fuels is a threat to American security.

Here is NRDC’s fact sheet on the subject: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/kxlsecurity.pdf

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson, Chief Logistician in Iraq and Afghanistan under General Petreaus, who says that Keystone XL makes us less secure; not more:

Look, in the last year, the Illinois General Assembly has been active on energy issues, with pricy results. There are the bills advancing a pair of super expensive synthetic gas plants, which would force customers across the state to buy dirtier, super-expensive fake natural gas while the country is awash in cheap natural gas. And there is the Tenaska “clean coal” boondoggle, which would force several generations of electric ratepayers in Illinois to subsidize an unnecessary coal plant to the tune of billions of dollars with increased utility bills. Given the fragile state and national economies, this is exactly the wrong time for the state legislature to work that same magic on gas prices... And now comes this utterly wrong-headed Keystone bill with its promise of higher gasoline prices.

But there is something our legislators should be doing. The real solution to our gas price problem is not doubling down on the dirtiest oil on the planet: Instead we need to lessen our dependence on oil. That is what S.B. 3527, the “Get Illinois Off Oil Bill” would start to do, by developing a plan to reduce consumption by 30% by 2030. That would be concrete and timely action to help the economy of Illinois; rather than making it much, much worse.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.