NY Times' One-Sided Report On Keystone Pipeline Fight


A Media Matters report published earlier this year demonstrated how news coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline has largely mirrored pipeline proponents' preferred framing by overstating the jobs impact of the project while overlooking potential environmental consequences. The most recent example is a New York Times article by Jennifer Steinhauer, which presents a blatantly one-sided perspective on the political fight over Keystone XL.

The Times begins by framing the pipeline as an economic and employment issue:

President Obama is finding himself increasingly boxed in on the Keystone pipeline fight as more Congressional Democrats are joining Republicans in backing the project, which has strong labor support and could generate significant numbers of jobs in economically hard-hit states.

But what exactly is a "significant" amount of jobs? The Times later cites an industry estimate that the project could create 20,000 jobs, noting that the figure is "disputed." The figure is an unsubstantiated claim from TransCanada, the corporation behind the pipeline. By contrast, the State Department has said that while the project may employ 5,000 - 6,000 workers during the construction phase, it "would not have a significant impact on long-term employment."

The article also fails to note that several major unions, including the the United Steelworkers, supported President Obama's decision to delay the project.

The Times goes on to suggest that the pipeline is a remedy to high gas prices:

With gas prices sticking near $4 a gallon, unemployment high in many states and demonstrable support for the project in numerous polls, many Democrats -- especially those from states where pipelines are commonplace -- are beginning to sound almost indistinguishable from Speaker John A. Boehner, who called Mr. Obama "increasingly isolated" in his opposition to expanding the project.

But according to economists and energy analysts, Keystone XL would have little -- if any -- impact on gasoline prices, and certainly not any time soon since there is currently excess pipeline capacity from Canada. Even Ray Perryman, the economist hired by TransCanada to assess the economic benefits of the pipeline, said the effect would be "modest" and likely "swamped by the day-to-day factors that impact market prices." And some analysts say the pipeline could actually raise prices in the Midwest.

The Times later mentions opposition to the pipeline from environmental groups and landowners, but it does not delve into their specific concerns. The article notes that there has been some controversy over the proposed pipeline route, but it does not explain that a leak could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for two million Americans. In fact, the article currently states that TransCanada "said this week that it had created a new route through Nebraska that would avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region and the Ogallala Aquifer," linking to a FoxNews.com article. But a correction has been appended stating that it is "not the case that a new route through the state will indeed avoid the aquifer."

The Times also claims that environmental groups protesting the project "are resistant to new pipelines period," without mentioning their specific concerns about the impact of tar sands development on climate change. These glaring omissions only serve to reinforce the GOP talking point that the Keystone XL pipeline debate is about jobs, when the reality is far more complicated.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Energy
The New York Times
Jennifer Steinhauer
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