I've been reading the Department of State's Final Environmental Impact Statement on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Numerous commentators are focusing their criticism on the FEIS's environmental analysis. I want to take a look at the section on socioeconomic impacts. That section shows significant property tax gains but unclear if not outright contradictory claims on benefits and costs in other areas. That section also shows a distressing blindness to one of the most noteworthy socioeconomic impacts, the use of eminent domain by a foreign company for private profit.

Keystone XL will cross more miles and pass within two miles of more residents in South Dakota than in Montana or Nebraska, the states along the Steele City section, the great northern hypotenuse connecting Alberta with the existing TransCanada pipeline that heads south across Kansas. Yet South Dakotans have seemed relatively quiet about the pipeline. A few landowners have filed official protest, but I haven't heard much other ruckus from my neighbors about this dangerous, unnecessary land grab.

Perhaps that seeming silence can be explained by this table of potential property tax gains:

According to the State Department's analysis, the nine counties Keystone XL will traverse stand to gain $15.4 million in annual property tax revenue from the pipeline. Harding, Haakon, and Jones counties would see their property tax revenues more than triple. Only one other county along the route, McCone in Montana, would see a greater proportional fiscal impact.

I can't argue with the fact that such dramatic revenue increases could do a lot of good in the sparsely populated West River counties affected. I realize I'd have a hard time walking into the courthouse in Buffalo or Philip or Murdo and telling county commissioners to turn down Keystone XL and try recruiting cleaner projects to come in and raise their revenues.

I would nonetheless try. The FEIS paints a picture of other socioeconomic benefits that remains at best unclear. Consider first of all that the Department of State got lazy and did not update numbers from TransCanada's original application submitted in 2008. DOS uses Census data from 2000, income data from 2007, unemployment data from 2008, and property tax data from 2007. A little more studious reserach by Secretary Clinton's minions would have dug up at least 2010 data for all of these figures. Asking for up-to-date economic data may be a small quibble, but the absence of 2010 economic data from the report calls into question how much effort was made elsewhere in the FEIS to produce a complete and accurate analysis.

The FEIS addresses the jobs Keystone XL offers. The construction of the pipeline may create 5000 to 6000 temporary jobs. However, as we saw with Keystone I across eastern South Dakota, very few of those jobs will go to local people:

Efforts would be made to hire temporary construction staff from the local population through construction contractors and subcontractors. Provided qualified personnel are available, approximately 10 to 15 percent (50 to 100 people) could be hired from the local work force for each spread. This may not be possible in more rural areas [FEIS, 3.10-54].

Using 2008 unemployment data (class, can anyone tell me why using 2008 employment figures in 2011 is bad? Anyone?), the FEIS shows that the temporary local jobs created in the states Keystone XL crosses would amount to less than 1% of the number of people unemployed in those states. That doesn't mean Keystone XL temporarily lowers your local unemployment from 5% to 4%; that means it lowers your local unemployment from 5% to maybe 4.97%.

The long-term impact on jobs is almost nil:

The limited number of permanent employees associated with the proposed Project would result in minor long-term impacts on housing. If all 20 operational employees were newly hired for the proposed Project Final EIS Keystone XL Project and moved into the proposed Project area, they would require a maximum of 20 housing units. The existing vacant housing in the proposed Project area could easily meet this housing need [FEIS 3.10-80-81].

Twenty operational employees. Twenty. Along the entire pipeline route. That means maybe three or four new workers in South Dakota. Keystone XL has little impact on unemployment during construction and zero impact on unemployment long-term.

The Department of State shows its favor for TransCanada by the different language it uses on benefits and costs of Keystone XL. The FEIS speaks of "positive impact on the local economies" [3.10-58], even though new jobs are minimal, and even though State offers no hard analysis of increased local business activity during construction. But when the FEIS turns to cost, State chooses language that clearly minimizes negative impacts:

In any case, given the transient nature of the workforce, the impact of increased demand for medical services on local minority and low-income populations would be minor and short-term [FEIS 3.10-63].

Few non-local workers would likely be accompanied by family members because of the short construction period and transient nature of the work. Therefore, potential overall public service impacts associated with temporary increases in population would be short-term and minor in much of the proposed Project area [FEIS 3.10-89].

The FEIS emphasizes that, since these transient outside workers won't bring families along, they won't unduly burden local medical systems and other public services. The FEIS notes that in South Dakota, many of the workers will be concentrated at camps (also known as company towns) near Union Center and Winner, further easing the impact those transient workers will have on local services. But the FEIS does not similarly emphasize how these factors will also reduce whatever positive economic impact these workers may bring as they send their money back home to their families and keep to themselves more often at camp rather than coming to town all the time for supper.

The FEIS fails to address one of the most singificant socioeconomic impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline: the use of eminent domain by a foreign company to support private profit. TransCanada has told landowners up and down the proposed pipeline route that they have in choice in the matter. If landowners won't sign easements, TransCanada will take them to court to force them to give up their property rights.

I suspect there are more than a few South Dakotans who would be up in arms if they thought the government was going to force them to surrender their property rights to a foreign company, no matter what the proposed use. Those South Dakotans would be even angrier if they knew that the proposed use was not a public highway they could drive on or a public park where their kids could play but totally private infrastructure that will carry North American oil to China and raise their gasoline prices.

TransCanada is raping prairie landowners. That seems a pretty important socioeconomic impact. Yet our Department of State ignores that rape.

And alas, with 300%+ increases in property tax revenues, South Dakota's county officials seem inclined to do the same.