Big Energy Fibs -- and One Truth -- in Today's Chamber of Commerce Address
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue gave his annual “State of American Business” address this morning and -- as has come to be expected from the chamber -- played the role of cheerleader for the fossil fuel industry. Here are three big fibs Donohue pushed on his audience today, and one thing he actually got right -- though not in the way he intended:
Fib No. 1
“Recent discoveries have confirmed that this nation is truly blessed with energy resources. We have 1.4 trillion barrels of oil, enough to last at least 200 years.”
This figure is pulled from a December report by the Institute for Energy Research called North American Energy Inventory. But the authors of that report misstated their own source, a U.S. Department of Energy analysis called “Undeveloped Domestic Oil Resources." Of the over 1 trillion estimated barrels of oil that are still in the ground, only 400 billion are “technically recoverable.” And of that, only a tiny fraction is economically feasible to recover. So good luck filling up your car, Donohue's kids, when the pumps run dry well short of two centuries from now.
Verdict: White lie
Fib No. 2
The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline "project has passed every environmental test.”
Considering the Chamber’s longstanding contempt for the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s no surprise that Donohue doesn’t mention the EPA’s unfavorable rating of the project. And it’s obvious that Donahue hasn’t read a number of other independent analyses, like that of University of Nebraska professor and environmental engineer Dr. John Stansbury, who calculated “worst-case scenarios” for Keystone XL.
Stansbury’s study (pdf) predicted “91 significant spills [more than 50 gallons of crude] over the pipeline’s operational lifetime” and found that a failure of the pipeline beneath the Nebraska Sandhills could spill up to 7.9 million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Ogalalla Aquifer, which provides roughly one third of our nation’s irrigation water and drinking water to tens of millions. If Keystone XL were to fail over the Missouri River, Stansbury warns, the plume of tar sands crude could flow 450 miles downstream.
Plus, now that TransCanada has abandoned its original pipeline route, and no new one has been put forth, it's pretty impossible to examine the full environmental impact of a route no one has even seen.
So maybe the project hasn’t passed every environmental test -- just the ones that the Chamber and the pipeline’s boosters have total control over.
Verdict: Sin of omission
Fib No. 3
The Keystone XL pipeline "can put 20,000 Americans to work right away and up to 250,000 over the life of the project.”
Really, pipeline boosters are still pulling out this stinking pile of hooey after it's been so thoroughly exposed as a huge lie (including by pipeline builder TransCanada itself)? A Cornell University report found that just between 500 and 1,400 temporary construction jobs would be created by Keystone XL. Another analysis, by the State Department, found that the project would create no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs -- and only 20 permanent ones.
From NRDC's Keystone XL jobs report (pdf)
Yet somehow, the 250,000 figure continues to hang around. (Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations has the most thorough takedown of the claim.) So inflated is that 250,000 number that it is twice as large as the next-most cited figment of the industry’s imagination: that Keystone XL would create roughly 119,000 total jobs (direct, indirect, and induced) over the life of the project. That number itself was based on a flawed and poorly documented study that TransCanada commissioned from the Perryman Group.
The big scam in the Perryman study, explained clearly in this Cornell report (pdf), was that it calculated more than $1 billion of spending and more than 10,000 person-years of employment for a section of the Keystone project in Kansas and Oklahoma that has already been built!
Verdict: Evil whopper
Accidental Truth No. 1
“Our nation is on the cusp of an energy boom that is already creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, revitalizing entire communities, and reinvigorating American manufacturing.”
Whoa, is Donahue finally going to talk about the well-documented economic potential of clean energy? Of course not. Instead, he rattled off a bunch of stats about oil, coal, and natural gas, completely ignoring the clean energy sector, which grew by 8.3 percent between 2003 and 2010, nearly twice as fast as the overall economy. This is, according to the New York Times, “Where the real jobs are.”
Clean energy is also much better at creating jobs than the fossil fuel industry (which the U.S. Chamber now seems to solely represent). According to a University of Massachusetts study (pdf), for every dollar invested, the renewable energy sector creates three times as many jobs as the fossil fuel industry.
There’s a real energy and jobs boom right there -- and you don't even have to stretch the truth.
Image from 350.org's "The U.S. Chamber of Secrets"