11/02/2011 03:07 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2012

Creating Jobs Shouldn't Be A Short-Term Proposal

I have a plan to put every single unemployed person to work tomorrow: pay them all a dime a day to cut down every tree they see. There. That wasn't so hard, was it?

The problem with our economy isn't only that people aren't working. It's also that job quality has declined. The unemployment rate only reflects those looking for work. Not those who've given up looking. Not those who work part-time and don't make enough to pay their bills.

We could create literally millions of jobs that get work done. But we have a responsibility to make sure the jobs do right by the employee and by the rest of the country.

We could create jobs by building a fragile pipeline from Canada to Texas that transports toxic sludge. But we shouldn't.

The Administration is at a key moment in the decision-making process on extending the Keystone pipeline, a project which would do exactly that. It would shunt tar sands oil -- some of the most toxic fossil fuel in existence -- over a 2,000-mile route from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf coast of Texas.

Two thousand miles of pipeline winding over fields, along water systems, across a seismic fault, near homes. Two thousand miles of pipeline facilitating the combustion of a fossil fuel that emits an estimated three times the carbon dioxide of conventional oil.

All in the name of jobs.

We know jobs. Green For All has been pushing for years to improve job quality while reducing environmental impact. We've seen -- in theory and practice -- how we can build career-path jobs for low-income communities and communities of color while still being responsible stewards of the planet. When we help someone find work retrofitting a house in the Pacific Northwest or in a community garden in the Mountain West or installing solar panels in West Virginia, we make sure that it's sustainable for the planet and the person. And if they spill something on the job, it can usually be fixed with a sponge.

TransCanada estimates that the pipeline can create tens of thousands of jobs. The State Department is less sanguine, putting the number at about five thousand. But what often gets left out of the debate is that most of these jobs are in the construction of the pipeline. They're temporary. The great boom TransCanada proposes will last months, not decades.

The potential environmental impact, though, could be indefinite -- particularly as the pipeline ages. In a recent report Green For All co-authored, we found that our nation's water infrastructure is degrading quickly, in large part because we've failed to maintain. Every year, enough untreated sewage is released into America's waterways to cover Pennsylvania, one-inch deep.

Imagine if that were toxic tar sands oil -- and the state were Nebraska. No wonder that state's Republican governor opposes the planned extension.

The State Department disagrees, signing off on the project despite the fact that the environmental impact reports they used to guide their decision came from a firm tied to TransCanada.

It's up to the president now; only Obama can reject this faulty proposal. It won't be easy; as an election year approaches, his critics will insist that jobs are the most important thing on his agenda.

So we must insist -- loudly -- that we can't sacrifice job quality and job impact. Let's put people to work, yes -- but over the long term.

Let's not put people to work today, only to see them unemployed and wading through oil tomorrow.