Demonstrators against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, protest outside the law offices of Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, in Norfolk, Neb., Oct. 11, 2011.
"States Jockey in a Modern-day Gold Rush"
Op-Ed, Boston Globe
October 20, 2011
Author: Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
The Mall of America, the largest retail facility in the United States, lures many visitors to Minnesota. As someone who normally shops online, I found the experience surreal, made more so by the strangely soothing jellyfish exhibit at its indoor Sea Life exhibit. With over 35 million visitors a year, tourists from around the world line the clean corridors, spending money and having fun at the Nickelodeon- themed amusement park.
The mall may be attracting visitors, but it isn't keeping Minnesotans in the state. Its neighbor to the west, North Dakota, may not have Armani boutiques or a Sponge Bob rollercoaster, but it does have oil and money and jobs. Minnesotans — about 26,000 of them in 2009 — are finding work in North Dakota. Many cross the border on Interstate 94 daily to get in on the action. Their movement suggests that the economic nirvana of domestic energy production is not some policy debate about the future of America. It is here and it is changing the dynamic of our energy discussion to one predominantly about jobs and each state's competitive desire to get them.
This is the great migration, a modern-day gold rush. North Dakota has the nation's lowest unemployment rate, over 16,000 job openings in the industry, and a billion-dollar budget surplus. A shocking 100 new oil wells are being licensed per month, as technology has made access to the natural gas reserves in the Williston Basin area more accessible. According to a series in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, North Dakota is now housing 35,000 new workers from out of state, creating even more hiring in public safety, education, and home construction.
It's not all a perfect story; far from it. Men and women are living in makeshift and modular camps in hopes of earning up to $120,000 a year. Crime is up, and the pressures on any society that is reversing a decades-long population decline can often create the feeling of too much of a good thing. There is little discussion of the longterm environmental impacts.
North Dakota may be an extreme case, but it is not alone. Politicians as diverse as Texas Governor Rick Perry and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are vying for a piece of the energy action. Places like Alaska will benefit from Arctic oil drilling. Others hope to feed off the frenzy, either by winning energy contracts or benefiting from related growth. Long-term investment, as Governor Deval Patrick has been promoting, is also part of the equation. The controversial $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, traversing six states from Montana to Texas, is being sold as a big job magnet; while final approval is pending from the State Department, its proponents believe it will create 20,000 domestic jobs in those six, and neighboring, states.
The possibility of real and present jobs is changing the domestic energy narrative. The historical debate has been a caricature of big-business lobbyists against environmentalists. This is how it seemed to play out when President Obama recently postponed the EPA's planned new ozone standards; Obama had simply bent over to the will of the rich and powerful industry. But look again: In reality, most states are demanding regulatory reform to also help lower their unemployment rates and bring in some cash.
This is now requiring the federal government to defend regulations that are necessary — and there are many — and jettison redundant, counterproductive, or outdated ones. That pressure will mount as the United States becomes less dependent on foreign oil. At the same time, each state is playing out the equivalent of sibling rivalry to be the favored child in a growth industry. I have seen it many times in my government work; when resources are scarce, the competitive juices wipe away any notion of a "united" states.
This is true for getting cash after a major disaster or vaccine for a strange flu known as H1N1. It is no different for jobs. The states want them. The Minnesota exodus is just one of many case studies about energy, migration, and the God-given right of every American to have enough cash to shop at the Mall of America.
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