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The Keystone Pipeline, Delay is the Name of the Game

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The four-year saga of the Keystone XL pipeline is a textbook case of the game Washington politicians play. To avoid making decisions that might anger one constituency or another, they appoint a committee or commission a study and then sit back, hoping the report never comes in.  If they don’t like the results, they commission another study.

The application to permit construction on the Keystone pipeline was filed in September 2008. Since then, four reports have been produced on the potential environmental impact of the pipeline—each coming in with essentially the same conclusion. Earlier this month, the US Department of State issued a 2,000-page draft reporton the potential environmental impact of the pipeline. As Business Week concluded: “Overall, the report does not raise any huge environmental red flags.” Yet, the Obama Administration has blocked construction of the 875 mile segment of the pipeline which would carry crude oil produced from Canada’s oil sands to US refineries in the Gulf Coast.

Despite the widespread public approvalfor the pipeline and the report’s conclusionthat “other options to get the oil from Canada to US Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change,” the State Department made no recommendation for or against the project moving ahead. Instead, Kerri-Ann Jones, State’s as­sistant secretary for Oceans and Inter­national Environmental and Scientific Affairs, told reporters, “We’re looking for feedback now from the public to help us shape this going forward” and “We’re very anxious to have a lot of public comment.” Interestingly, the government has already received millions of comments on the pipeline.

It is a complicated matter.

Environmental activists—who are major Obama backers—have been roaring opposition to the pipeline and development of the oil sands resource for years and just last month staged a rallyand engaged in civil disobediencein Washington. They aren’t happy that the latest report didn’t predict a host of environmental catastrophes.  One outspoken opponent is actress Daryl Hannah, who, along with Robert Kennedy Jr., Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, and dozens of others, was arrested for attaching herself to the White House gates. Hannah dismisses the new report sayingit is: “bogus” and “totally wrong, flat out totally wrong.” These environmental activists think President Obama, who has the last say in the matter, should have slammed the door closed long ago.

On the other hand there are several major labor unions, also big supporters of Obama, who favor proceeding with the project, which promises to create tens of thousands of jobs. Then there are the Canadians to think of, they badly want a friendly, nearby market for their oil (already Canada is the leading supplier of foreign crude to the United States).

And, of course, there are the people. Here’s what the Heritage Foundationsays about Keystone: “The project will accommodate up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day, create some 179,000 jobs on American soil, and continue good trade relations with a close ally. The benefits won’t stop with the oil sector, though—the Keystone project will have a positive ripple effect even in areas without the pipeline that will provide goods and services to support the pipeline.”

Environmental activists have pegged their opposition to climate change alarmism. But even the State Department report dismisses such concerns, essentially because blocking the pipeline would not prevent the production of crude oil from Canada’s oil sands. The truth is, environmental groups oppose any use or expansion of fossil fuels in our economy. In a recent debate broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio, Sierra Club’s Brune advocated keeping two-thirds of all the world’s oil, coal, and gas reserves “in the ground.”

Factions in Canada have already made it known that the market for oil in China is growing by leaps and bounds, so if production from the oil sands doesn’t flow south to their US neighbors, it can move westto the coast and go by tanker to China—where China’s environmental laws and oil refining industry is not nearly as advanced as the US. Increased emissions would undoubtedly be significant.

Such a development should be of great concern to environmental activists, who know that China is already the number one emitter of so-called greenhouse gases and currently accounts for 70 percent of new emissionseach year—and expanding. Acknowledging that the world will continue its reliance on fossil fuels, Brune says: “The fossil fuels that are produced have to be produced according to the highest standard in terms of protecting our air, our water, our wildlands, and our climate.” If that is really his position, Brune should be campaigning for the pipeline, not blocking it and thereby sending it to China.

A decision on the Keystone XL pipeline should be an easy one for the Administration. Charles Krauthammercalls the decision “the most open and shut case I have ever seen” and says that if Obama refuses the pipeline, “it will really show how partisan considerations way outweigh the national interest.” With high unemployment still dogging the US labor force, the quick creation of jobs to construct the pipeline and the long-term ripple effects throughout the economy should be welcome. So, too, should be the significant economic effects that will ultimately produce billions of dollars in tax revenues for local, state, and federal coffers.

The other significant benefit of the XL pipeline would be increased energy security and reduced imports that come by tanker from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela (Venezuelan crude is even “dirtier” than what we get from Canada’s oil sands). Can anyone doubt that getting a larger percentage of our oil supplies from a friendly neighbor would be better than continued reliance on less secure foreign sources?

Combined with the growing production of US oil—and the reduction in demand due to the poor economy and increased efficiency of motor vehicles—the addition of Canadian crude would move us closer to the goal of energy self-sufficiency.

Instead of signaling support, the Administration has delayedand delayed—wanting “addition information.” The additional information is in, now a decision is delayed by a 45-day commentperiod, before a 90-day review process begins. Some reports project a September decision. Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, says “If a decision is pushed past September, the company faces choosing between spending more or delaying startup until mid-2015.” And delay seems to be the name of the game because, according to NASA scientist James Hansen, “fully exploiting the tar sands would effectively mean ‘game over’ for the climate.”

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