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The Politics Of The Keystone XL Pipeline Debate


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. House Republicans balk, Senate Republicans fume and Newt's Iowa lead evaporates under the heat from negative ads, anti-endorsements and Mitt's charge that he's unstable. It's a Wednesday and time for a...


CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: But I'm the decider.


CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin is off this week, so NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins us to recap the week in politics. The Senate passes a rare bipartisan bill nine to one, so the House kills it. But there's one point of agreement; both chambers say it's time for a holiday recess.

Rick Santorum wins a big endorsement in Iowa. South Carolina's governor picks Mitt, and the National Review votes for anybody but Newt. Stealth Republican candidate Gary Johnson will now run as a Libertarian, and Sarah Palin says there's still time for folks to join the race. Are Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton listening?

In a few minutes, the politics of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Later in the program, why the holidays could be the best time to find long-term work. But first, guest political junkie Ron Elving joins us here in Studio 3A. As always, Ron, thanks very much for pinch-hitting.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Neal. You always make the week sound much more exciting than it actually might have been.

CONAN: Well, that's our job here at Political Junkie. Last Friday, Senate Republicans walked away convinced they'd scored a victory on the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut. What happened?

ELVING: Well, apparently that victory was snatched from the jaws and turned into what now appears to be sort of a freefall for the House Republicans. We don't want to prejudge the total reaction to what's happened in the last few days. Sometimes these things take a little while to sort out. And they certainly are getting a lot of air time and a lot of opportunity to explain themselves.

But what appears to have happened was that the Senate Republicans and Democrats, believing that they had, essentially, the go-ahead from John Boehner, negotiated the...

CONAN: Speaker of the House, yes.

ELVING: Speaker of the House - the Republican leader of the House - believed that they had an opportunity to go ahead there and work out a bipartisan deal, worked one out, could not get all the things resolved, wanted to come back and do some more negotiating after the holiday break.

And so they put a 60-day extension, essentially freezing everything in place. By the way, this includes payments to doctors who have Medicare patients - and I'm going to come back to that in a moment because it's very important - and put all this in place for 60 days with the full expectation that they would return, negotiate a full-year extension of all of these various provisions, including childless benefits, including the payroll tax cut. And then they went home.

And they believed that they had done what everyone wanted them to do. And again, as you said, it passed 89 to 10. Now, it's extraordinarily unusual for the Senate to do anything that contains any controversy whatsoever with those sorts of numbers, just a handful of Republicans opposing it and a few Democrats, as well, some of the more liberal Democrats, in fact. And so they all went home happy, except they had not yet gotten the official OK from the House.

And it turns out John Boehner was speaking mostly for himself, or he says he was misunderstood, and, well, the House came back on Monday and voted the whole thing down. So there's nothing. There's no extension of any of those popular programs, including the payroll tax cut, including the jobless benefits, including the ability of doctors to continue to take Medicare patients at full pay.

They're going to be hit with a 27 percent pay cut if they take Medicare patients in January. That may be the element in all of this that really sets the match to the conflagration.

CONAN: Unemployment extension, as well, but as we go through this, some people are questioning: Is this the speaker of the House watching his knees cut off by the Tea Party coalition?

ELVING: That is one interpretation. From the standpoint of what we saw him up against in March and April on the government shutdown, on funding, and what we saw him up against in August when he negotiated a big deficit reduction deal with President Obama and then had to walk away with it when - walk away from it, I should say, when his own people back in the House Republican Caucus said no deal.

So this is the third time that it appears that John Boehner, functioning as the speaker of the House, doing what the speaker of the House is expected to do, has negotiated with the forces of everyone else in Washington, gotten a deal and then been told by his own troops sorry, we're not going there.

He may be at the crisis point of his speakership.

CONAN: There was one other element of that deal: It would have forced President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, putting him on the horns of the dilemma. More on that in a few minutes. A lot more on that in a few minutes, it's going to come back even if this deal does not go through.

In the meantime, let us go to Iowa, where it turns out last week it seemed that Newt Gingrich was the clear leader. This week, anybody's ballgame.

ELVING: Yes anyone's ballgame. It appears there are six candidates bunched between 10 percent and 25 percent, and with the fluidity of people moving up and down within that range, it's possible to imagine Ron Paul winning the whole Iowa caucus shooting match, if you will, with 22, 23 percent of the total participant vote.

It's also possible to imagine somebody else winning it with 23, 24 percent, perhaps even - it could possibly even be Mitt Romney, who is spending most of this week touring New Hampshire, not even in Iowa. It could be Newt Gingrich, who has been a skyrocket in December but also a skyrocket that seems to be in the process of crash-landing, dropping very rapidly even as he rose.

And we have several other candidates contesting, as well, some of whom have reason to think and hope that they could be the Iowa hero this year.

CONAN: Well, part of that problem for Newt Gingrich is he is being dramatically outspent, and there is a whole bunch of negative ads, including one broadcast by a super-PAC aligned with Mitt Romney.



UNDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich's baggage. Newt has more baggage than the airlines.

CONAN: And that again from a super-PAC allied with Mitt Romney, who say I can't possibly tell them what to do. If I get in contact with them, I will go to the big house. He didn't mean 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

ELVING: That's a big white one, no.

CONAN: Whether there's plausible deniability or not, this has prompted some stinging language from Newt Gingrich, the master of no-holds-barred politics.

ELVING: Newt Gingrich, who has lately been playing the positive card and trying to be above the fray, possibly, some would say, because his super-PAC doesn't have as much money as Mitt's, has said look, those are friends of Mitt's who started this thing. They're former staffers of his. It's former donors of his who are putting money into it. We don't really know all that much about who's putting money into it.

But Newt is saying they're just trying to drive me out of the race with money.

CONAN: It's not going negative, but it's disgusting.

NEWT GINGRICH: Ask them if they run into one of these candidates to tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves. They ought to take this junk off the air.

CONAN: And so he finds himself melting under this barrage of negative advertising, being outspent considerably not just by Mitt Romney's super-PAC and by Mitt Romney, but Michele Bachmann is also running negative ads against him, and there has been one persistent set of negative advertising from that other factor in the race that you mentioned, Ron Paul.



UNDENTIFIED MAN #2: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way.

UNDENTIFIED MAN #3: He is demonstrating himself to be the very essence of a Washington insider.

#2: It's about serial hypocrisy.

CONAN: And that has been telling.

ELVING: That's what they call a killer ad. It started out on the Internet as a two-and-a-half-minute ad, which a lot of people downloaded and saw. But then there is a shorter television version, which I believe is what we just heard, and that is killer because so many more people will see it.

In fact, it's being shown so often in Iowa it's difficult to imagine anyone interested at all in either politics or even watching television has managed to avoid seeing that ad in recent days, and many people in all camps are attributing the sudden drop-off in Gingrich's numbers in Iowa largely to that ad.

CONAN: Now, you're seeing some - a lot of attacks against Newt Gingrich, some attacks against Mitt Romney, largely from Rick Perry, and then you're seeing Ron Paul attacking Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. But the one person who seems to be escaping all of the attacks is Ron Paul.

ELVING: Ron Paul has been a fringe figure in the minds of most people, in the mainstream media and among the other candidates. In fact, when you ask the other candidates who do you really like on this stage or who might you want to take ideas from, they love to say, oh, Ron Paul, you know, he really stands for what he believes in - mostly because they think that overall, his views are not acceptable to the mainstream of the Republican Party.

And while his fierce partisans, his loyalists, will always be with him, that he's not salable to the broader Republican Party, particularly on his foreign policy. And that once you get out there to independents, people are going to say whoa, cut 80 percent of the federal government, 80 percent of the federal government? Defense, Social Security, Medicare?

CONAN: All aid to Israel.

ELVING: All aid to Israel. That gets a little spiky. So they don't fear Ron Paul, and that's why they haven't been doing anti-Ron Paul ads. If they could have known a few weeks ago or months ago where Ron Paul would be sitting in Iowa right now, they might have done so.

CONAN: As we mentioned, Gary Johnson will no longer be running as a Republican. You might have missed that he was running at all.

ELVING: One debate.

CONAN: He will in fact now be running as a Libertarian. Ron Paul, interestingly, declines to rule out the possibility of a third-party candidacy.

ELVING: Go back to 1988, Ron Paul was the Libertarian Party candidate for president. Then he came back to the House as a Republican later on. Look, Ron Paul is a guy who knows that he is at his maximum leverage right now. He knows that people are listening to him in a way they have not listened to him at any other point in his career, even when he did run as a third-party candidate for president.

And he has the nation's attention. Why in the world would he want to rule out running as a third-party candidate right now? It wouldn't do him any good.

CONAN: Interesting development in the Texas senatorial contest, pretty late in the day, we thought we knew the field when, well, out of the backfield comes rumbling a surprise candidate. A mustang has entered the race.

ELVING: All right, Southern Methodist University Mustang, Craig James, who was in that famous Pony Express backfield with Eric Dickerson back in the late '70s, early '80s, had a pretty good pro career of his own, was offensive player of the year on year, I believe he was in the Pro Bowl, had quite a career. And more recently, of course, and more broadly known to people today as an ESPN college football analyst.

Craig James is a guy who is probably about as universally known in Texas as you can be without being currently playing football.

CONAN: Or Roger Staubach.

ELVING: Or Roger Staubach, who will always be playing football in Texas, or for that matter perhaps a officeholder in Texas. He has never run for office before. So this would be his inaugural run in politics, and he's already gotten a lot of attention. Presumably he'll be able to raise a fair amount of money. This may be more of a wide-open race than we knew, or maybe he's just getting in too late.

CONAN: And it was interesting, Sarah Palin said this week it is not too late for folks to get into the race, unclear whether she was speaking for herself, but all of a sudden we see an editorial in the Wall Street Journal from the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, the brother and son of a president of the United States, and all of - robocalls for Hillary Clinton.

ELVING: I'm not sure when Sarah Palin said it wasn't too late for folks to get in she was referring to Hillary, but she certainly was thinking about somebody other than herself, one assumes. If she wanted to get in, all she has to say is I don't see anybody emerging from this field who expresses everything I want in a candidate, and she has refused to endorse any of them, saying she's still thinking about which one is most reflective of her views.

So if she wants to get in, she has a perfect entre to do so. She doesn't have to say folks.

CONAN: When we come back, we'll dig into the Keystone XL Pipeline battle. What do you think? Is it about national security, jobs, the environment or just politics as usual? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll be back in just a minute. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. The Senate tossed loads of sweeteners into the payroll tax cut extension it passed last week, chief among them forcing President Barack Obama to decide on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline within 60 days.

The president announced this fall he'd wait until after next year's elections before deciding whether to approve a pipeline that would pump oil from Canada's oil shales to the United States. It was a relatively low-key plan until environmentalists, people who the president hopes to call his own, brought it front and center to the White House.


UNDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho, dirty oil has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho...

CONAN: Before those rallies were over, 1,000 people had been arrested. The issue was front and center. On the other hand, the pipeline could create thousands of jobs. It's oil from a safe ally and could potentially destabilize the environment of the states it passes through. On what basis do you judge the Keystone XL Pipeline? Is it on national security, the economy, the environment, or is this just politics?

Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Joining us here in Studio 3A is Coral Davenport, energy and environmental reporter for the National Journal. Nice to have you with us.

CORAL DAVENPORT: Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And, of course, guest Political Junkie Ron Elving is still with us. But Coral Davenport, what in the world does an oil pipeline have to do with the payroll tax cut extension?

DAVENPORT: Absolutely nothing. This was thrown in as pure politics, at the end of the day. And what I think is so interesting about this issue is the Keystone Pipeline has been on the table since 2008. It was first proposed in 2008, during the Bush administration, and has been kind of a back-burner environmental issue for three years.

Environmentalists have always opposed it. The oil industry has always supported it, and most Americans didn't really know all that much about it. This year, as we started to approach an election year, environmentalists became really worked up about it. They saw that the State Department - it looked like the State Department was going to make a decision, a final decision.

CONAN: The State Department's involved because the pipeline crosses a national boundary.

DAVENPORT: Right. And the State Department gets the final signoff on this. It decides whether the pipeline is in the national interests or not. And environmentalists are very, very opposed to this pipeline because it doesn't just bring conventional oil into the United States. It will open up a market for pretty much the dirtiest kind of fossil fuel that there is in the world.

It's - the Canadian tar sands oil - you know, regular oil that we produce now contributes to global warming, but the oil that's in the Canadian tar sands is kind of special. It's in this dense, gooey mix with sand, and the only way to get it out is by using so much energy, that you create about 30 to 70 percent more global warming emissions to get it out.

So building this pipeline, some environmentalists say, could really be a tipping point for climate change. And so environmentalists kind of geared up and got these protests going, elevated the issue and got the president's base so activated on this that they threatened to leave him. This is sort of the environmental base that, you know, knocked on doors, got people excited, you know, really brought out the vote for President Obama in 2008.

And they said, this is it. This is the environmental issue. If you say yes to this, we will leave you. You know, we might not vote for the other guy, but all that support that we brought to you, forget it. It's gone. This is our one issue.

And it worked. You know, it's sort of one of the few times that we really see environmentalists came together, got a single message, and it had appeared before that the State Department was going to approve the deal, and they delayed it. The environmentalists had a real success.

So congressional Republicans saw a great opportunity to really stick it to the president by saying as soon as he delayed it by saying nope, you know, we're going to put you right back there. We're going to stick you between, you know, your base and a hard place.

CONAN: And a hard place, Ron Elving, is with, well, jobs and labor unions, all of whom are, you know, the economy, the president looked...

ELVING: Exactly, exactly. It's the economy. It's the jobs. It's getting everybody back to work. That's the key to Barack Obama's success or failure in 2012.

CONAN: His polls are up a little bit because the economy is up a little bit.

ELVING: Just the tiniest little move in the economy, just the tiniest little move down in the unemployment rate helps him enormously. So we have to assume that the one issue that is completely paramount in this election is that economy, and here is a symbolic moment, a totally symbolic moment because we're only talking about maybe a few hundred or a few thousand jobs at most in this connection. But it looks like the symbolic yes or no.

DAVENPORT: And that's what's really elevated this issue from the backburner to the front lines of the political debate. Republicans hadn't paid a lot of attention to this, and then it just - the nature of the issue itself just fit so perfectly what the political narrative is going to be for 2012.

It's about oil security. It's about the economy. And yes, it's about jobs. There's dispute over how many jobs it would create, but it's clear that the pipeline will create jobs. So Republicans love the idea of jumping on this and saying the administration - you know, this administration is saying no to a job creator and no to something that could help the economy. It's - it puts the White House in a terrible situation, politically.

CONAN: Now, the president doesn't face this, because the House punted on that two-month extension, which would have forced it onto his plate. It's going to come back. The Republicans see this as too good an issue, Ron.

ELVING: Yes, Coral's exactly right. I mean, they have not had a gift like this in some while. So they're certainly going to seize upon it. And whatever happens with the payroll tax cut extension, whatever happens with this particular episode in the struggle between the White House and the Republicans in Congress, this issue will be back, attached to something else that is similarly spiky difficult and impossible for the president to just push away.

CONAN: Now, there is one other obstacle in the way of the pipeline, and that is Nebraska, a Republican state with a Republican governor who said wait a minute. We opposed this pipeline crossing land that - underneath which lies the Ogallala Aquifer. Say that three times fast.

ELVING: Well, Ogallala is one of those words we Midwesterners love to be able to show off we can say. We don't handle some of the other Indian names quite so well. But this particular part of the world is enormously environmentally sensitive because the Ogallala is an enormous aquifer, affecting many, many, many states and many, many people's livelihoods.

So this is not Republican-Democrat in Nebraska. This makes a certain amount of sense to them as an environmental question. But there's always the prospect of re-routing the pipeline, getting it away from Nebraska, getting the Nebraskans set to one side so that we can go back to the symbolic issue.

CONAN: And Coral Davenport, some say even if it's blocked in the United States, these oil sands are going to be tapped, and that oil is going to be sent - perhaps by pipeline - to the West Coast, where it can be shipped to China.

DAVENPORT: Absolutely. That part of the debate is - you know, the demand for oil globally is so great right now, that with or without this pipeline, you know, someone's going to get to that oil. One reason this source of oil that is so polluting and so expensive...

CONAN: And so big.

DAVENPORT: ...and so big - has not yet been a major source of oil is because it's extremely expensive to extract. But now that we are - we've really entered the era of, you know, $100-a-barrel oil kind of as the norm, people are looking - you know, companies are looking for oil in unconventional places all over the world.

And it's certainly - it's an appropriate argument to say with or without that pipeline, someone's going to figure out a way to get that oil.

CONAN: Well, we want to get some listeners in on the conversation. Ron Elving, we know you have to leave us, and we thank you very much for filling in for Ken Rudin, who will be back next week as the Political Junkie goes on the road to - what's that town? Des Moines...

ELVING: Des Moines, Iowa.

CONAN: ...Iowa, just one week ahead of the Iowa caucuses. So, Ron, again, thanks very much, and Ken Rudin will be back next week.

ELVING: Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And Coral Davenport's going to stay with us. In the meantime: 800-989-8255. How should we see the XL Pipeline issue? We'll start with Josh, Josh with us from Yukon in Oklahoma.

JOSH: Yes, sir, how are you doing? Nice to meet you, Neal.

CONAN: Thanks very much for calling.

JOSH: Thank you. As far as the conversation goes, the pipeline, I can tell you personally I work in an oil field here in Oklahoma, and it has provided numerous jobs, not just for people I work with, but friends. And I think it's a great deal. The only problem I have with it is that I think the politics are getting too much involved with it, and - but they're also not listening to the people in Nebraska and understanding that, you know, if they didn't provide this many jobs, what about helping out some of the Nebraska people and understanding where they're coming from?

CONAN: All right, Josh. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

DAVENPORT: You know, and Josh touched on something that's going to be a really big part of the 2012 campaign, generally. It's not just jobs, but this idea of energy jobs. In 2008, Obama introduced the idea of green jobs. That idea has been, you know, pretty battered, especially in the wake of the Solyndra controversy.

But Republican candidates are really seizing on this idea of energy exploration as a jobs creator, and we're definitely going to see a lot of discussion about energy exploration and the pipeline drilling as a jobs creator.

CONAN: And that's also put as a political question to environmentalists who say President Obama, if you go for this, we are - you are dead to us. A, he doesn't quite believe them, but he thinks they will vote for him, if not work for him, if not fund him. But in any case, do they actually prefer a Republican president and a Republican Congress who would be on the policy of drill, baby, drill, not just the pipeline but fracking and offshore oil?

DAVENPORT: This is where it's interesting to see that Republicans have really gone up to the brink on this. There's this classic tension between Democratic lawmakers, Democratic presidents and environmentalists, because a Democratic president, you know, kind of knows that there, you know, he or she has to make pragmatic political decisions, and they know that there are times where they can do things that will disappoint the environmentalists. And the environmentalists aren't going to go and vote for the other guy.

So they're always, you know, we see this administration always trying to maintain that balance. You know, we've seen this administration disappoint environmentalists on some other issues, and they know that the environmentalists will still stay with them. This is the case where all the environmentalists organized and got together and said we will abandon you. We will - you will not have our support. This is the one singular issue. And you don't usually see that. You don't usually see...

CONAN: Because they see if that reservoir of oil sands is burned, they say it is curtains...

DAVENPORT: A tipping point.

CONAN: ...for global warming.

DAVENPORT: Except - environmentalists do have something else to worry about, which is essentially what the administration - what President Obama has done now is he has delayed this decision. He has not denied the oil pipeline. He's delayed the decision until after the election. So if a Republican becomes president and the Republican has that decision, it's almost certain that they would go ahead and approve it. So it's all a really delicate careful game.

CONAN: Let's go next to Matt. Matt with us from Elkhart, Indiana.

MATT: Hey. Thanks for having me on the air.

CONAN: Sure.

MATT: I had a question mainly about if there's any public funds that would be directly or indirectly used to support the pipeline. I guess I'm mainly - my thought is that it seems sort of crazy that we can invest this kind of money, even if it's just money spent on supporting the, you know, remaking the roads that support the trucks that bring the equipment to build the pipeline when we could be investing in things like high-speed rail and all those sorts of things.

CONAN: Is the government supporting this? I thought it was privately funded.

DAVENPORT: It is all privately funded. It's being built by a company called TransCanada. It is subcontract - it's contracting out to, you know, looking at subcontracting - contracting out to other companies. But there's no direct government contracting plan right now that I know of.


CONAN: Thanks, Matt.

MATT: Thank you.

CONAN: Email question from Red in Oakland. The Wall Street Journal says 20,000 jobs number comes from the pipeline company. What do they count? Is there an independent analysis of how many real long-term jobs would be created?

DAVENPORT: Yes. That 20,000 number, which comes from the pipeline company, has been heavily disputed. There is an independent analysis by Cornell that says the number would probably be closer to 2,000 or 3,000 jobs, and that they would not be long term. They would probably be construction jobs building the pipeline itself, which would take a couple of years, and that would be the end.

CONAN: We're talking with Coral Davenport, energy and environment correspondent for National Journal with us here in Studio 3A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Email question from Richard in Pennsylvania. Why don't they just build a refinery in Canada?

DAVENPORT: Well, again, a kind of, you know, the question is, you know, bringing the oil into the U.S. and a global market. And what's interesting is - the point of the pipeline would be to bring the oil to U.S. refineries and then actually to be able to ship it out. It would be brought to Louisiana and Texas where there are refineries and there are shipping facilities. And so there's some question as to how much of that oil would actually go directly into the U.S. market, anyway, if it's kind of going directly to a transport point.

CONAN: And another email, this from Nick in Vermillion, South Dakota. I live in South Dakota, and, well, not an environmental activist, I oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline. All we have out here for both our agriculture and our tourism industries is our environment. When, not if, a spill happens, our environment will be contaminated. To my knowledge, there's no guarantee whatsoever the pipeline's owner would be made to ensure they can provide complete and prompt cleanup of any accidents, leaving the surrounding environment and its people in a very, very hard place indeed. People like him would point to the pipeline break in the Yellow Stone River last summer and say this kind of thing is inevitable.

DAVENPORT: Absolutely. And that's one reason why it has taken so long for the administration to get to a decision because it's been subject to many rigorous environmental reviews, economic reviews, state and local reviews. And again, there's this kind of balance that the State Department would have to make. You know, the possible threat of some local contamination or some small or medium local spill versus what would be the broader benefit for national interest or the economy.

CONAN: And here's an email from Steve. Many thousands of more jobs in solar or wind where they are needed at the point of energy use. In other words, why are we developing oil when we could be developing alternative technologies?

DAVENPORT: You know, something I recently learned that's very interesting is there are actually more than twice as many jobs in the renewable energy industry in the United States than there are in the fossil fuel industry. There's - according to a study by the Brookings Institution done over the summer, there are 2.7 million jobs in the United States in the renewable energy industry and only about 800,000 in coal, oil and other fossil fuel extraction; which is interesting, you know, it's surprising to, you know, understand that discrepancy in numbers. And this project is expected to bring, you know, two to 5,000 additional jobs, which is, you know, not insignificant but it's a small - it's a much smaller number than the number of jobs in the renewable energy industry.

CONAN: And this from Stan in Geneva, New York. It's my understanding the oil from the Excel pipeline goes to Texas in order to be exported. How does exporting this oil make us less energy dependent?

DAVENPORT: Exactly. That's one of the issues. I mean, it's not - there's no guarantee in building this pipeline that the supply actually come - will come directly to the United States. There will be new supply entering the global market, and that will be produced - you know, the demand for that supply will come from North America, potentially reduce demand from the Middle East. But, you know, the oil market is really global, and so, you know, it's not a guarantee that this will be injected directly into the U.S. market.

And there's no guarantee whatsoever that will make any difference in oil prices or gasoline prices in the United States. All of those are influenced by global developments around the world. So all of this comes into play when you think about whether or not it's a good decision to do it.

CONAN: So in some ways, it's symbolic, but symbols are important.

DAVENPORT: Yes. And the fact that it's so symbolic is so clear if you look at the history, if you look at how this, you know, sat as a backburner issue until we were approaching a heavily contested presidential election. All of a sudden, you know, it became something being touted by the campaigns.

CONAN: And until 1,000 protests said...


CONAN: ...I'm willing to go to jail to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. Coral Davenport, thanks very much for being with us today.

DAVENPORT: It's a pleasure.

CONAN: Coral Davenport, energy and environment correspondent for National Journal. As we mentioned, Ken Rudin, political junkie, are on the road to Des Moines next week, so join us for that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.