Jan
19
2012

Dubious Pipeline Assertions Become USA Today Headlines

Today's front page of USA Today:

Obama Rejects Keystone Pipeline: Business leaders, GOP say decision kills 20,000 new jobs

The paper adds that "Obama was putting politics ahead of jobs and the nation's energy security by rejecting the pipeline now, Republicans and oil industry leaders said." It closes with this:

Business leaders and Republicans say approving the project now would create as many as 20,000 jobs for an ailing U.S. economy and lessen dependence on foreign oil.

"This political decision offers hard evidence that creating jobs is not a high priority for this administration," said Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

If the argument in favor of this pipeline is that it creates jobs, then reporters should look into the claims about job creation. USA Today doesn't do that, but others have. A piece by CBS reporter Alain Sherter (1/18/12) explained that the 20,000 figure, while lower than some estimates, still has some problems:

But subsequent analysis suggests that Keystone's job-creating potential is more modest. The U.S. State Department calculated last year that the underground pipeline would add 5,000 to 6,000 U.S. jobs. One independent review of Keystone puts that number even lower, with the Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would add only 500 to 1,400 temporary construction jobs. The authors of the September report also said that much of the new employment stemming from Keystone would be outside the U.S.

Transcanada itself cast doubt on its employment forecast when a vice president for the company told CNN last fall that the 20,000 jobs Keystone would create were temporary and that the project would likely yield only "hundreds" of permanent positions.

Another reason for the discrepancy appears to stem from what that 20,000 figure really means. As Transcanada has conceded, its estimate counted up "job years" spent on the project, not jobs. In other words, the company was counting a single construction worker who worked for two years on Keystone as two jobs, lending fuel to critics who said advocates of the pipeline were overstating its benefits.

The inflated claims will continue to fly, though–especially when reporters don't push back.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.