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A Keystone copout for liberals

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Building the Keystone XL pipeline, to speed the flow of crude from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, would be “game over for the climate,” says NASA-scientist-turned-climate-activist James Hansen. Heeding Hansen’s words, environmentalists have sworn to stop the project, which requires U.S. government approval.

Yet large, bipartisan majorities of the House and Senate support Keystone XL, as does 60 percent of the American public, according to the latest USA Today poll.

Today, it is still on hold, because Tuesday night 41 Senate Democrats voted against ending debate on a bill to green-light Keystone XL, thus thwarting what might have been a disastrous exercise of democracy.

In short, the filibuster may have just saved the planet, at least for now.

Or so it must be believed by Keystone XL’s opponents — even though they include some of the same people who decried the filibuster, not unreasonably, as an obstructionist, anti-majoritarian evil when Republicans employed it against President Barack Obama’s health-care reform, cap-and-trade and other progressive legislation.

Majority rule is not the only progressive principle some progressives seem ready to sacrifice on the anti-Keystone altar.

Remember the corrupting influence of money on politics? Billionaire Tom Steyer has spent millions on TV ads backing environmentalist Democrats and trashing the pipeline itself, thus purchasing outsize influence in the White House and the Democratic Party.

Most of the time, liberals tout the job-creating potential of critical infrastructure projects, based on the indirect “multiplier effect” that even short-term construction can have on economic growth. For Keystone XL, though, different rules apply.

We are instructed, by Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress, among others, that the $8 billion project will create “only” 3,900 “direct” one-year construction jobs and a mere 50 permanent ones. Forget the 42,000 jobs that a State Department analysis said would be “supported” by the project.

Construction unions understand that employment in their field is inherently temporary in the sense that it ends when the building is built. They strongly favor Keystone XL. Yet this reliably Democrat middle-class constituency also is being thrown under the anti-Keystone bus.

Progressives are not only being intellectually dishonest and traducing their values, they’re doing so pointlessly: This end doesn’t justify these means.

Far from being “game over” for the planet, Keystone XL would not boost greenhouse gas emissions significantly, according to State Department experts. With or without Keystone XL, Canada’s oil sands will still be turned into crude oil and shipped, often by rail, to markets in the United States and elsewhere. The environmental movement’s energies would be far better spent elsewhere.

In their tendentious effort to deny these realities, progressives risk violating yet another cherished principle that, in their view, distinguishes them from the right: that of letting facts and science, not ideology, determine policy.

Campaigning for a symbolic victory over the fossil-fuel industry, they might end up with a Pyrrhic one — if any.

Charles Lane is a Washington Post columnist.

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