A Tale of Two Pipelines | Opinion

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden unleashed a devastating attack on American energy workers. One of his first acts revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Yet when it comes to Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Western Europe, the president is happy to give it his go-ahead.

The contrast between the two projects could not be clearer. Keystone would link the U.S. with a reliable ally and trading partner, Canada, and would be built by a Canadian company using American workers. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline being built by the Russian state-owned monopoly Gazprom would hand strongman Vladimir Putin a geopolitical weapon.

Guess which one President Biden punished?

Keystone

The Keystone XL pipeline would move crude oil from Canadian oil fields to American refineries. It would also improve market access for oil produced in the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota.

TC Energy, the company building the pipeline, estimated that Keystone's construction would employ more than 11,000 Americans in 2021. These workers, most of them belonging to labor unions, would receive more than $1.6 billion in wages.

Instead, with the stroke of a pen, the president immediately killed 1,000 jobs and ended future hiring prospects for 10,000 more workers.

With millions of Americans unemployed because of COVID lockdowns, is it a smart idea to eliminate existing jobs because they happen to be in an industry Democrats find unfashionable?

President Biden's justification for killing the project, climate change, is unpersuasive.

Canadian crude oil is going to find its way to U.S. markets in about the same quantities with or without the pipeline. It's just that more of it would instead come in by rail, which is more expensive, hazardous and emissions-intensive.

Since 2015, crude-by-rail imports have tripled and now make up about 8 percent of the crude imported from Canada. With further increases expected, imports via rail are likely to grow unless Keystone is completed.

Even the Obama administration's environmental review of the project saw this. Obama's team concluded that Keystone was best for the environment. It still is.

Gas pipes near Nord Stream 2 station
Gas pipes near Nord Stream 2 station in Germany ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images

Keystone is the single most studied piece of U.S. infrastructure ever. When completed, it will be one of the dozens of energy pipelines America shares with Canada and Mexico. The fact that President Biden has chosen to prolong the irrational campaign against this pipeline at the expense of union workers' livelihoods is a national embarrassment.

Nord Stream 2

Given the president's open hostility to a domestic pipeline that enhances our energy security, it's surprising to find that the pipeline project he is willing to green-light is Russia's Nord Stream 2.

This controversial pipeline would move Russian natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany for ultimate distribution throughout Western Europe. The continent gets 40 to 45 percent of its gas imports from Russia. Completion of Nord Stream 2 will further tighten Putin's grip on European gas supplies and extend his threatening influence.

U.S. opposition to Nord Stream has been—or used to be—broad and bipartisan. Congress has passed several bills imposing sanctions on companies insuring, constructing and investing in the pipeline. In January 2021, President Trump imposed sanctions against the Russian pipelaying vessel Fortuna and its owner KVT-RUS.

In 2016, then-Vice President Biden rightly called Nord Stream 2 a "fundamentally bad deal for Europe"—a view White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki recently said he still holds.

Yet in a report submitted to Congress, his State Department inexplicably failed to list any new companies working on the project in defiance of U.S. law, even though information on violators is readily available.

Companies previously threatened with sanctions have already deserted the project. By failing to sanction new entities involved, the Biden administration is empowering Russia to complete Nord Stream 2.

In response, 40 Republican senators sent a letter to the president urging his administration to follow the law. Sadly, not one Democratic senator joined us.

The president's decision to choose the Kremlin over Keystone is a slap in the face to the 11,000 American workers whose good-paying jobs vanished on Inauguration Day.

After these two clumsy and costly episodes in U.S. energy diplomacy, it's reasonable to ask why the president seems more intent on saving Russian jobs than American jobs.

John Barrasso, a Republican of Wyoming, is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.