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Debating the Keystone XL pipeline: An extra-large row

“I’M NOT a tree-hugger,” insists Susan Luebbe, a lifelong cattle rancher, “but if I have to buddy up with tree-huggers to stop this, then so be it.” She is talking about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is slated to cross her land on its 1,700-mile (2,700km) route from Canada to the Texas coast. Environmentalists dislike the project chiefly because it would increase America’s imports of oil from the tar sands of Alberta. Tar sands take lots of energy to process, and therefore entail copious emissions of greenhouse gases. People like Mrs Luebbe, in contrast, are against it for fear of what an accident might do to her livelihood. If the viscous mixture of bitumen and oil in the pipeline spills on her land, she asks, “Who’s going to eat my beef? I couldn’t even sell this ranch.”Since the pipeline will cross America’s borders, the authority to approve or block it rests with the State Department, which says it will rule by the end of the year. Republican politicians outside Nebraska are framing the decision as a simple choice between job creation and mindless environmental regulation. After all, TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, says it will create 20,000 jobs (albeit temporary ones in construction for the most part) and dramatically improve America’s energy security. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, among other Republican presidential candidates, have spoken in…

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