We the People: Oil pipeline disagreement is harbinger of things to come

The debate over the Keystone XL oil pipeline is the kick-off for two years of legislative gridlock between the Republican Congress and the Democratic White House. The 1,179-mile pipeline, first proposed in 2008, is designed to pump 800,000 barrels of tar sand oil from Canada through the United States to Gulf Coast refineries.

Our new GOP leadership was unable to control its members’ boorish behavior during the State of the Union address so Mitch McConnell and John Boehner probably have more partisan head-butting in store for the nation during the legislative session.

The $8 billion Keystone project requires taxpayer money to fund it even though it is touted as a boon for the U.S. economy. Experts estimate that taxpayers will be on the hook for more than $1 to $2 billion in tax breaks for the refiners that will process the oil.

The tax code permits refiners (oil companies) to deduct depreciation for necessary equipment upgrades at an accelerated rate. This provision in the tax law was amended last year to extend it specifically to equipment used to process crude from the oil sand.

Meanwhile, if the pipeline is approved, farms and ranches in America will be taken for the pipeline. The Republican Congress is ramping up its efforts to approve a bill authorizing the construction, despite a White House promise to veto it because, according to the Republicans, the pipeline is critical to supplying the country with jobs and oil from a friendly neighbor instead of the Middle East.

This pipeline will eliminate more trucking and transportation jobs than it creates and the product is going to be sold to China. It is a win-win for the oil companies. We the people would be better served with legislation that creates infrastructure/transportation here to reduce pollution and oil dependence.

Such a bill would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for our citizens. An enhanced rail network with improved communication lines on the right of way would help America and Americans. If Japan can have “bullet” trains linking its major cities, shouldn’t we have the same technological advancements?

Instead, we get the MTA raising the subway fare to $2.75 but failing to provide leadership or a vision for transportation. The MTA makes you pay but it remains a black hole for taxpayer dollars. If the Keystone pipeline needs a subsidy, then it should be paid for by the oil companies that will sell the oil to China. Falling oil prices should make us wary of projects to increase production but open to projects that reduce consumption and waste.

The Port Authority is floating a cross harbor freight tunnel for New York again. The need exists to reduce the terrible traffic congestion on our roads but the project will cost at least $10 billion. Who will pay? There are several ferry/barge waterborne alternatives in the proposal.

Renewable energy is taking a hit with falling oil and gasoline prices. A large wind turbine project in Massachusetts lost the backing of utility customers when the company could not meet funding deadlines. The low cost of oil is helping keep the economy moving but that may have unforeseen effects such as an abandonment of projects that should be followed through to completion. A conservation of resources is always a good idea for the planet and its inhabitants.

Sheldon Silver, after a 35-page federal indictment on corruption charges, will step down from his post as speaker of the Assembly. While Silver is innocent until proven otherwise, the accusations are troubling, especially since, for years, he was one of the “three men in a room” that decided state budgets with more than $1 trillion in expenditures.

That spending included $8.5 million for a health care account that Silver controlled and used to fund research into mesothelioma by a top oncologist who thereafter referred patients to the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which in turn paid Silver more than $3 million in referral fees for asbestos victim cases.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara initiated the investigation that led to the charges against Silver only after Governor Cuomo pulled the plug on the Moreland Commission on public corruption.

Mr. Cuomo is being investigated by Bharara over the abrupt disbanding of the commission and Bharara in a recent statement told the public to “stay tuned’’ for more charges.

Democrats are seeking a replacement for Silver. Queens County Democrats are pushing Assemblymember Cathy Nolan. Other possible replacements include Joseph Lentol (Brooklyn) and Herman “Denny” Farrell Jr.  (Manhattan).  The consensus opinion is that the successor will be from New York City.

Brian Kieran is an attorney who works as a Principal Law Clerk in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Kings County and is a Democrat.

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