Who Needs the Dakota Access Pipeline?

by Frank Ackerman, member green economist of the E3 network

reposted from CommonDreams

A packed Seattle City Council chamber cheers passage of the bill to drop Wells Fargo as its bank last week. (Photo: Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

The final link of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) can now be built, thanks to a recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers (although the Cheyenne River Sioux have filed a last-minute suit to stop it). In light of the disappointing but unsurprising federal approval of the pipeline, it is worth pausing to ask who and what DAPL is good for.

Who needs the pipeline? There are four main answers: three are silly and one is dangerous.

Silly answer #1 is that the ravenous ego in the White House needs a continual flow of evidence that he is always a winner and his enemies are all losers. Indian tribes and environmentalists can get in line next to Muslims and Mexicans as obstacles, which he shall overcome, to the huge success of making America some kind of great again.

Answer #2, only slightly less silly, is that Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company that built the pipeline, has $3.8 billion invested and won’t earn a dime on it unless the pipeline is finished. ETP is a well-connected company – at least until recently, Rick Perry was on its board of directors and Donald Trump was one of its stockholders. Surely that’s irrelevant to the recent decision.

But it is well established in economic theory that people who make bad investments should lose money on them. Milton Friedman, the forefather of conservative free-market economics, was emphatic on this point. As Friedman might have asked, why is DAPL a worthwhile investment that deserves to make money? Who actually needs this pipeline?

Answer #3 is only silly if you pay attention to the numbers. Building a pipeline creates jobs. Good, high-paying jobs making and laying pipe. In fact, building anything creates jobs. Building a bridge to nowhere or a pipeline that no one needs will create jobs – but building things that people need can create even more jobs. An in-depth study of alternatives to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline found that the host states could gain many more jobs by investing in much-needed infrastructure for clean water and natural gas distribution.

Moreover, almost all the jobs created by building DAPL have already happened, because the pipeline is almost complete. It makes no sense to count past jobs as future benefits. If construction jobs are an important benefit of the pipeline, I hope you enjoyed them; they’re all but over. Once a pipeline is completed and in operation, it needs very few workers to keep it going.

Finally, the dangerous answer is that DAPL would be useful to keep oil flowing if the price of oil was much higher than it is today. The danger involves the factors that might cause higher prices. But first, a little back story.

DAPL was planned in early 2014, at a time when the price of oil had been above $80 per barrel, often closer to $100, for the past several years. Oil production in North Dakota was booming, and there were early signs of a shortage of pipeline and rail capacity to carry the state’s oil.

Then, in the second half of 2014, the price of oil collapsed. Since the beginning of 2015, the price of oil has been below $60 per barrel, occasionally far below. Oil production in North Dakota has slumped, and the volume of oil carried out of the state by pipeline or rail transport has plunged so low that there is no hint of a capacity shortage.

North Dakota is among the most expensive on-shore locations for oil production in North America. Several oil experts have estimated that the break-even price for North Dakota oil is $60 per barrel or more. In my own study of the state’s data, I found that North Dakota oil production tends to go up when the price has averaged more than $61.50 per barrel for the last few months. The flip side is that North Dakota output tends to drop when the price of oil lingers below $61.50 – as it has done for the last two years, ever since early 2015.

So DAPL will only be needed for oil transport if the price of oil goes, and stays, much higher than it is today. Here comes the dangerous part: suppose that an out-of-control White House was inflaming conflict in the Middle East, threatening bad relations or even war with major oil producing nations. If OPEC countries cut off oil shipments to the United States, the price of oil will soar, North Dakota’s oil boom will resume, and DAPL will become key to Fortress America’s oil supplies.

Normal diplomacy would prevent that, of course. But normal diplomacy is so 2016.

 


Fixing old water and gas pipelines would create far more jobs than building Keystone XL

By Brendan Smith, Kristen Sheeran, and May Boeve

In the coming months, President Obama will decide whether to approve the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude tar-sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. We know that the pipeline would greatly aggravate climate change, allowing massive amounts of the world’s dirtiest oil to be extracted and later burned.

The payoff, say supporters such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is a job boom in construction industries, which are currently suffering from high unemployment. Earlier this month, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue called on the president “to put American jobs before special interest politics.”

If you believe headline-grabbing challenges such as Donohue’s, the president is painted into a corner on the KXL pipeline — trapped by a stagnant economy and an ailing environment.

Continue reading…


The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy

New research shows that replacing failing infrastructure in Keystone XL states creates more and better jobs than the proposed pipeline

Replacing aging wastewater, drinking water, and gas distribution pipes in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas can create more jobs and better jobs in the pipeline and construction industries than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, according to a new report released today by E3 Network and Labor Network for Sustainability.

The Keystone XL pipeline has been touted as a means to address America’s job crisis. This new report, The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy, shows that we can create five times more jobs than Keystone XL by investing in much needed water, sewer, and gas infrastructure projects in the five states along the proposed pipeline route. The study finds that meeting water and gas infrastructure needs in the five states can create more than 300,000 total jobs. Every dollar spent on gas, water, and sewer infrastructure in those states generates 156% more employment than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Continue reading…


E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative

In diverse communities across the US, new economic practices and models are emerging to challenge business-as-usual. These bold experiments in the new economy vary widely and exist across multiple scales, from neighborhood collaborative consumption initiatives, to cooperative financing models, to new social enterprise structures, to regional economic development processes, and more. At their core, these approaches are motivated by and responses to rising social inequality, environmental degradation, and persistent economic decline.

These innovations may forge the foundation for a more resilient and equitable future economy, yet evidence regarding their impact has been mostly anecdotal. E3 Network is launching our Future Economy Initiative to catalyze research by economists on new economy models and innovations. The Initiative’s goal is to create an analytical framework for evaluating the social, economic, and environmental impacts of new economy models and for documenting the variables contributing to their emergence, success, and limitations.

Later this year, E3 Network will announce a competitive request for proposals from economists to apply the new framework to US-based case studies of the new economy. Right now, we invite input from economists interested in helping us to frame the analytical approach and/or identify promising examples of new economy models appropriate for case study analysis. To encourage wider discussion around new economy research, we encourage you to share your input in the form of a blog post (800 words or less) that we will post here on the E3 blog. Please comment below and send your blog entry or other suggestions via email to director@e3network.org. You can also find us on twitter at @e3network – let the conversation begin!

Continue reading…


Towards an Environmentally Just Climate Policy

By Noah Enelow

In the face of the political gridlock impeding the U.S. government’s progress towards a smart climate policy, independent researchers and activists are continuing to make progress on outlining what such a policy might look like and how we might get there. James K. Boyce and Manuel Pastor have provided us with the latest contribution to the climate policy research effort with their recent article in Climatic Change, entitled “Clearing the air: Incorporating air quality and environmental justice into climate policy.”

Continue reading…


Clean Air for All: The Benefits of Environmental Justice

By James Boyce, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This post first appeared on Triple Crisis.

Is environmental racism good for white folks? The answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem.

In the United States, there is plenty of evidence that African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans typically face greater pollution burdens than whites, with associated health risks. So if the same total amount of pollution were spread more evenly, whites would wind up breathing dirtier air.

But would total pollution remain the same? Or would pollution decline if it was no longer disproportionately inflicted on minorities?

A recent study by a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, finds that toxic air pollution from industrial facilities is a variable, not a constant, and that the total pollution load is correlated with the extent to which minorities bear higher-than-average pollution impacts.

We measure the extent of disparities in U.S. metropolitan areas by comparing the share of minorities in total exposure risks from industrial air toxics, calculated from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, to their share of metropolitan population. In Birmingham, Alabama, for example, minorities bear 62 percent of the air toxics exposure risk, but constitute only 31 percent of the population. Continue reading…


Cleaning the Air While Cooling the Planet

By James Boyce and Manuel Pastor. Cross-posted on Triple Crisis.

There is good news and bad news about the clean energy transition. The good news is that half the new electric generating capacity installed worldwide in 2008-2010 was renewable. The bad news is that half wasn’t.

To avoid rapid global warming and its attendant human and economic risks, we need to accelerate the transition. We need to do more than slower growth in the use of fossil fuels: we need to cut their use substantially. This will require significantly ramped up investments worldwide in energy efficiency and clean energy.

One way to encourage this investment is to base public policies on the full range of benefits from reduced burning of fossil fuels – not only global benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also local benefits from reduced emissions of particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, benzene, and other toxic pollutants.

In the European Union, research has shown that the clean air benefits alone are sufficient to justify investments in energy efficiency and renewables. “The welfare effects of climate policy seem to be positive,” a 2006 report for the Netherlands Environmental Agency concluded, “even when the long-term benefits of avoided climate impacts are not taken into account.”

The clean air co-benefits of climate policy may be even greater elsewhere, in countries with less stringent air pollution controls than Europe. In a recent study we cite World Bank data indicating that in the United States the human health damages from particulate emissions are six times higher per ton of carbon dioxide than the average for Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In China, the ratio is more than ten times higher. Continue reading…


Don’t Pay Polluters

Originally posted to Triple Crisis.

A little known greenhouse gas called HFC-23 made the news recently. Also called fluoroform, it’s a waste gas generated in the manufacture of refrigerants. Compared to carbon dioxide (CO2), HFC-23 is a minor greenhouse gas. Pound-for-pound, however, it traps more than 10,000 times as much heat.

The UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), set up under the Kyoto accord as a way for industrialized countries to “offset” their own CO2 emissions by paying for comparable actions in developing countries, counts destruction of one pound of HFC-23 as equivalent to prevention of 11,700 pounds of CO2 emissions.

The CDM pays large sums to coolant manufacturers in India, China and elsewhere to destroy the HFC-23 they produce. Indeed, these payments have become the largest single item in the CDM budget: this year, HFC-23 disposal is getting 50% more CDM money than wind power and 100 times more than solar energy.

The rub is that paying firms not to pollute gives rise to a perverse incentive. A firm that threatens to pollute more gets paid more. So manufacturers have upped their production of the refrigerants (themselves greenhouse gases, albeit less potent ones), in order to produce more HFC-23, so they can then get paid to destroy it.

It’s a great example of what economists E. K. Hunt and Ralph d’Arge once called capitalism’s “invisible foot”: when polluters are paid to clean up pollution, they create more of it, as if guided by an evil twin of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Today some firms make half their total profits from HFC-23 disposal payments.

People living near the coolant factories don’t do as well. In the state of Gujarat in western India, residents of an adjacent village complain of skin rashes, birth defects, and damages to crops caused by a noxious fog that burns the eyes and lungs.

The European Union has halted further HFC-23 payments, prompting firms to threaten to release the gas into the atmosphere. A scientist at the Environmental Investigation Agency, which opposes the pollution subsidies, put the matter baldly: Attempting to force countries into squandering billions on fake offsets that actually increase production of greenhouse gases,” he said, “is extortion.”

The HFC-23 fiasco offers three crucial lessons for climate policy. Continue reading…