South Dakota Democrats running for Congress have reason to worry about the Keystone XL issue, which in many voting districts will probably come front and center as November approaches. (First off, a disclaimer: I own commercial property that's close enough to the proposed route through South Dakota to gain something from the pipeline's construction. The gain is marginal and limited in time to the construction phase--but gain it is. Go ahead and attack me and my motives if you wish, but you'll be wasting your time. The issues I raise here are much bigger than my pipsqueakish interest in Keystone XL.) Yesterday's New York Times had a long piece about grain shipments being delayed in the Dakotas by a shortage of railroad cars created by the demands of oil production. They're even screaming about this in Canada. Meantime, my local contacts who raise winter wheat out here in western SD tell me that their recent harvest is piling up and can't get out of the area because of the rail shortage. The political problem for Dems? By November most of the state's row crops, principally corn and soybeans, will have been harvested and will join their sister harvest of wheat in stockpiles that can't be reduced.
So why should Corinna Robinson (running for the state's lone congressional seat) and Rick Weiland (running for the U.S. Senate) be concerned? Because just about everywhere I turn the blame for this backlog aims squarely at the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline. All of the interests I've contacted are convinced that KXL would alleviate the shortage of rail that's choking their businesses now. I know that my good friend Cory Heidelberger, who runs South Dakota's best political blog (and I'm not just saying that) The Madville Times thinks this argument is specious, but on this one I think he's wrong. Keystone XL opponents correctly note that most of the crude coming out of North Dakota will be shipped by rail even after Keystone XL, which is designed to move Canadian, not American crude, is built. What that argument ignores is that the huge amount of rail traffic committed to moving Canadian oil now will be freed up because Canadian Pacific won't have to concentrate so many of its resources on the Canadian oil patch. CP has a big presence in the United States. It can quickly divert its assets here, and will probably need to do so once those rail cars in Canada become superfluous.
I had a brief meeting with Rick Weiland a few days ago and raised the issue with him. His response to farmers' concerns? "That's not true." I didn't pursue the issue but pointed out that perception is what matters at this point--and I stand by that observation. Robinson has a similar problem with this, mainly because her opposition to Keystone XL deals with issues that are not central to concerns of ag interests right now. Both Weiland and Robinson will have a lot of trouble this Fall, when crops come in, convincing South Dakota farmers that their business needs are subordinate to larger national concerns, which may or may not have merit, depending on whose party line you favor. That both candidates have effectively drawn a line in the sand on Keystone XL will deny them any political wiggle room--and will cost them, plenty.