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The rails that run through thousands of American towns once birthed a good lot of them, serving as a lifeline for resources such as coal and timber.
It’s the story behind Baker. And for the 1,893 souls who occupy this eastern Montana community, a new economic boon was looming — the Keystone XL Pipeline — until President Joe Biden killed their kindlings, prompting the Canadian project developer to cancel the job this week. Then just like that, a place most people have never heard of found itself in the middle of a global battle over the economy and the environment.
Despite repeated references to working-class roots during a 50-year political career, Biden did his best David Blaine impression, making 11,000 Keystone jobs disappear on his first day in the Oval Office. His dark magic is a damning decision for Baker. Local leaders invested nearly a million taxpayer dollars in infrastructure to help prepare for the hundreds of builders, welders, engineers and inspectors descending upon this oil town. That’s about 20 percent of the town’s typical annual budget.
The news was worse for small business owners, suffering from the COVID-19 recession and looking forward to the boost new patrons would provide. Terry Hoyt, 68, who owns both the Red River Hotel and Roy’s Motel & Campground, had rented nearly every room to pipeline workers. “They had just started coming a week or two before the project got shut down,” he says. “We were almost empty the next night.”
Born in the early 1900s, Baker was never known as a “Wild West” outpost back then and is home to no more bars than churches today. It used to be called Lorraine, named after the daughter of a Milwaukee Road railway official. A.G. Baker, an engineer for that same company, was the inspiration of the town’s renaming in 1908.
The Keystone XL Pipeline wasn’t going to spawn another eponymous outcome, but it would have been big for Baker and good for both Montana and the U.S. economy. It was expected to transport 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude from Canada to Nebraska via Montana and South Dakota — and someday help to stem surges in gas prices, which this month have surpassed $3 a gallon.
Even Montana’s lone Democrat in Congress, Sen. Jon Tester, joined his state’s Republican leadership in pushing for the project, filing a bill to save it, along with Sen. Steve Daines. And U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, whose campaign included staunch support of Keystone, was leading the Treasure State’s fight in the House to resume construction. “We’re talking towns with 1,500 people, 2,000 people,” Rosendale says. “We’re talking about money that can fund their entire education systems, that can build roads and bridges.”
The congressman, sitting with both the American and Montana flags behind him, leans forward even further in his chair as he expresses his concerns about the importance of the pipeline on an international stage, especially what it means for the rise of China. “We’re playing right into their hands, their goal of becoming the world power. Not one of the world’s powers. The world power,” he says.
No doubt, the fact that eager Americans are losing work that would enhance our energy independence draws a chuckle from the Chinese Communist Party, which builds 80 percent of the solar panels we buy. Such is the irony (hypocrisy?) of a Biden policy that forgoes freedom for authoritarianism. His executive order to stop the pipeline was one of 22 he signed his first week in office, nearly twice as many as his last seven predecessors combined during their seven-day debuts.
Biden’s leftist loyalists whine that pipeline spills lend legitimacy to the president’s actions. The data dispute this argument. The oil is still coming and now it’ll have to be primarily by railway, for which there were nearly 6,000 incidents involving the spilling of hazardous materials in the last decade, according to federal statistics. For pipelines, it’s about half as many. These statistics even prompted The Heartland Institute to emphasize that pipelines are “safer than safe sex.”
We need “a real awakening by the environmental movement,” Rosendale says.
More importantly, Baker is a microcosm of what has gone so wrong in America. We’re now a nation of urban elites telling folks in flyover country how to live, an egregious oversight of public policy’s innate Newtonianism: For every major political action, there’s often an equal and opposite reaction. The radical left lambasts Donald Trump without realizing its elitism propelled the Orange Man to power in the first place.
I’ll admit, I’ve questioned and criticized dozens of Trump’s decisions. I also think it’s easy to see why this Montana zip code — so far-removed from the endless wealth in Washington, on Wall Street, and throughout Silicon Valley — feels slighted when its investment begins to dissolve the second Democrats take power.
Pipelines aren’t a one-time deal either. They need upkeep. That means Keystone would have brought more work in the long run and more money around the town of Baker down the road. Doesn’t it make more sense to create good-paying American jobs? Or would we rather rely on enslaved Uyghurs in China to produce our unreliable solar infrastructure? I thought Biden is supposed to relate to America’s roll-up-your-sleeves crowd, after his upbringing in “hard-scrabble” Scranton.
Well, Mr. President, let this serve as a reminder on behalf of Baker: You didn’t always wear a suit and tie, and just because you do today, it doesn’t give you the right to rule like your counterpart in China.
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