The "Keystone Jobs Bill" Is Anything But

If you're even remotely plugged-in to either environmental activism or national politics, here's a name that'll probably ring pretty familiar: the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Or, to put it another way, the enormous political football that the Democrats and Republicans have been firing back and forth for the better part of three years now — it's a massive construction project that would run a pipeline carrying some of the world's dirtiest type of oil through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Here's what it isn't: the Keystone XL "jobs bill," which was what GOP Senator Jodi Ernst called it in Ernst's State of the Union response Tuesday night.

This much can be conceded, at the very least — you could fairly call Keystone XL a "jobs bill," if you interpret those two words to mean "anything that may create one or more jobs." Of course, by that standard, almost any bill could be a jobs bill.

You could just as easily call President Obama's community college proposal a "jobs bill" by that standard — college experience helps your odds at employment, after all — and it's an alluring description for a supporter, but one I'll resist. Basically, calling Keystone a "jobs bill" is little more than water-muddying, to reframe the pipeline as an employment booster, rather than a potential ecological disaster-in-waiting. It's even worse, frankly, considering how wildly many estimates of the pipeline's job creation have been exaggerated.

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But if there's anything every politician loves, it's a simple line that packs a punch. Ernst and her speechwriters clearly felt they had one on their hands Tuesday night, as she indulged in this euphemistic, rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

One you’ve probably heard about is the Keystone jobs bill. ... We worked with Democrats to pass this bill through the House. We’re doing the same now in the Senate. President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?

Ernst did mention, accurately, that the State Department's assessment ruled the pipeline would pose minimal environmental impact, a claim that's been roundly criticized and credibly challenged. And, of course, emissions aren't the only potential risk of running hundreds more miles of pipeline through American soil — despite the repeated insistences of the oil industry, accidents happen all the time, and the means they have to clean up leaks, spills and ruptures are woefully outdated.

Basically, if you want to support the construction of Keystone XL, that's fine. Disagreement is inherent to the political process, and nobody should be beyond challenging their own assumptions. But please, don't call it a "jobs bill." It's a nakedly reductionist, sneaky way to try to gloss over the real fact, arguments and issues surrounding this proposal. I don't call Republican gaffes "jobs gaffes," after all, even though they sometimes keep me well-employed.

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