Keystone XL Pipeline Is Energy Policy Decoy

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Are you in favor of creating jobs and U.S. energy independence, or would you like to slow global warming and protect the environment from harm?

Think hard before you answer because you can't support both of these things at the same time in the battle between Transcanada's ( TRP) Keystone XL pipeline combatants.

If it's the forces of green, the Keystone pipeline is a fight against the same old, same old fossil fuel-driven past of reckless environmental degradation in the name of profits.

When it's the army of the oil and gas lobby, the country is literally burning jobs like dollar bills through its wrong-headed approach to energy, which will also keep us addicted to foreign oil.

The problem is that it's politics as usual -- and politics trumping energy policy - no matter which side of the argument you are on, and today, it's all about President Obama deciding to reject the Keystone pipeline.
Politics as usual is toying with your energy future.

When it comes to energy policy, the U.S. is falling short of the mark. There doesn't seem to be a mark, in fact, it's all piecemeal decisions sating the appetite of the lobbyists. Politicians react -- whether it was the BP oil spill or Keystone or Solyndra -- rather than preempting problems by offering better ideas -- any ideas really -- for future energy policy.

Here's the real headline behind the Keystone mess: Politicians have made wedge issues of U.S. energy policy. Ultimately, the public is to blame if it continues to line up on one side or the other of the debate to support the wedges without questioning them and asking for more.

As Real Money columnist and energy sector expert Dan Dicker remarked when I asked him to size up the day's news, "I'm not sure who is winning. Who's the most politically-contrived player in the contest being waged in Washington over Keystone XL?"

Does this country still need fossil fuels for as far as anyone can see into the future? Could anyone really say no to that right now?

Will there be some point in the future of the 21st century when every American drives one of the burgeoning lineup of electric cars ? I wouldn't bet against it.

Will the U.S. someday have an electricity grid on which renewable energy is a significant component ? I wouldn't doubt that either; in some places it's already the case.

The problem, though, is that when it comes to politics and the decisions being made today, it's as if the powers that be think that we can be easily convinced a hundred-year war for the future of energy supply in this country can be settled in a year, or a single headline, and to them it's all just a convenient election cycle issue .

Today may be a day when the environmental lobby gets a win with a rejection of the Keystone pipeline. It's a good headline, yet it's no solution.

It's not enough for supporters of the Keystone pipeline to say that job creation is the only factor necessary to complete the analysis of the pipeline's benefits, either; yet they'll keep spouting the "jobs" buzz word because it's a convenient point of sensitivity for most voters, especially with unemployment as high as it is. Then they will move on to Iran's finger on the nuclear missile launch button and remind us that the pipeline would bring much-needed North American oil from Canada down to the U.S.

As has been previously argued, if this nation is going to get serious about energy policy, it won't be through the reductive sound-bite arguments related to jobs as a be-all and end-all or renewable energy -- or domestic fossil fuels -- as a silver bullet.

Here's an example of the way things really work, and the only way these day-to-day political decisions make any difference in leading to a sounder approach to energy in the U.S.

The environmental movement's fight against hydraulic fracturing, another of its marquee enemies, has recently stoked debate about the aims of the fight. Specifically, some environmental backers are surprised major environmental lobbies would accept some fracking as long as the right environmental and safety regulations are in place.

Adding layers of regulation to the fracking process drives up the costs of the drilling and that, in turn, makes renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, a little more competitive versus natural gas.

It's about internalizing higher costs for the fossil fuel industry. It has to be about that because it's impossible to churn out some handy formula from a computer that shows the "true cost" of reliance on fossil fuels if the country doesn't change paths now, a magic formula that suddenly makes us realize that coal and natural gas are really more expensive than wind and solar if you do the right math.

This is the political reality of energy policy: It moves slowly. Don't confuse the latest wedge headline with a turning of the tide in the confrontation between the entrenched interests on the fossil fuel or renewable energy sides of the divide.

This is a political war, and it will last decades, and a daily headline will move long-term energy policy about as far as a glacier moves in a day. Meanwhile, remember that as the score between the environmental movement and the oil and gas lobby is tallied, we remain beholden to headlines that want us to think the energy war is being won or lost. If we believe that, it's being lost for sure.

A better way to manage energy demand and consumption for the next hundred years, or longer, doesn't come through keying in on the Keystone XL rejection. That's a pipe dream of a pipeline "victory."

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.


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