One of the first actions taken by President Joe Biden hours after he was inaugurated was to sign an executive order revoking the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit to continue construction.

Biden’s action was immediately criticized by Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Bryan Steil, the Republican who represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, including his hometown of Janesville. Steil pointed out that ending construction of the pipeline put thousands out of work, including hundreds employed by a company in Racine.

Steil said Biden has “managed to destroy American jobs.” Steil also said that despite Biden’s call for unity, the new president came out of the starting gate repealing the Keystone permit, an action that will have a negative effect on the environment by forcing rail and truck transportation of oil from Canada instead of a more environmentally safe method by pipeline.

In defense of Biden, Democrats point out that during the campaign and in the period after he won the election and before he took office, Biden made it known one of his first actions in office would be to halt Keystone XL construction over environmental concerns. He said he would do it, and he did it. Attempts to claim this was some sort of shocking development fall on deaf ears.

As Republican political analyst Brandon Scholz said on my WCLO talk show, nobody should be surprised or alarmed that Republicans, including Steil, lashed out at Biden for revoking the pipeline’s permit. Scholz pointed out that if Biden wants unity and bipartisanship, he should start off by offering bipartisan policy. Revoking the Keystone permit is anything but, he argued.

In other words, to this point in Biden’s administration there is no unity or bipartisanship. If that’s a surprise to people, they haven’t been paying attention the past 12 years or so.

Before the partisan debate on the Keystone XL pipeline carries over into a third administration, it might be helpful to review what the project is, where it came from and where it is designed to go.

The TransCanada Keystone Pipeline is a project in four phases that is designed to carry crude oil from oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries in Texas and Illinois. Keystone XL is the fourth and final phase of the overall project and the source of current contention.

Construction on Keystone XL was halted by President Barack Obama in 2012 over environmental concerns. The project was revived by President Donald Trump and is now halted for a second time after Biden’s move.

In the current debate, Steil’s point on employment is well taken. There are hundreds of Wisconsin jobs and thousands overall lost by the shutdown of the project. That’s especially concerning during a pandemic when millions of jobs have vanished.

Equally significant are environmental concerns at a time when climate change is emerging to the forefront. Pipeline leaks have been documented resulting in severe damage to the environment.

We have all heard that economic and environmental impacts regarding major projects such as a pipeline stretching thousands of miles between two countries must be balanced. Do we sacrifice thousands of jobs because there is the possibility of environmental damage? Do we stop progress because a few snail darters might perish?

On the other hand, were the jobs at the Hooker Chemical Company more important that the lives and health of the residents of Niagara Falls, New York?

Hooker’s dumping of toxic waste that polluted Love Canal in the 1950s caused one of the country’s greatest environmental disasters. People died and families were left homeless before the federal government finally stepped in and cleaned up the deadly mess over 21 years.

There needs to be a serious, rational and informed look at Keystone XL and other projects with environmental implications. Partisan sniping and pandering to special interest groups and lobbyists on both sides of the issue merely kick the can down the road for the next administration to deal with—as we have seen with the Keystone XL project.

Stan Milam, a Janesville native, is the host of the “Stan Milam Show” on WCLO Radio.

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