Two years ago, President Obama deferred a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a $5.3 billion privately funded project that would channel oil from Canada's Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. It was widely suspected that the delay was due to Obama's re-election campaign, with the White House wary of alienating environmentalist groups during a close contest. But the hour for Obama to make a decision is close at hand, following the release last week of a State Department report indicating that the pipeline would have a minimal impact on global greenhouse gas emissions or the production of heavy crude oil — a conclusion that has infuriated environmentalists.
In a nutshell, the State Department says the oil is going to be consumed one way or another — either some other country, like China, will slurp it up milkshake-style, or it will be transported to the U.S. via rail, which could leave an even larger carbon footprint. If the pipeline is not constructed, it would slow down Alberta's oil-sands production, at most, by a paltry 2 to 4 percent by 2030.
Even robust efforts to create a bridge to a cleaner energy future would not change the fact that the U.S. and the world will remain dependent on fossil fuels for the near- and medium-term, argues Newsday in an editorial:
Blocking the pipeline probably wouldn't prevent Canada from expanding its oil extraction. Its plan B is to transport the crude to the Pacific Ocean by truck or rail or a new pipeline in Canada, and then to market in China. For many reasons, including global warming, price, and geopolitics, we wish the world didn't rely on fossil fuels. For now, it does. [Newsday]
On a geopolitical level, Keystone would reduce the U.S.'s dependence on oil from hostile nations. And in a boon to the U.S. economy, the pipeline will create at least 3,900 jobs, and perhaps thousands more, at little cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, the project has the support of an array of groups, including at least one important Obama constituency, writes Zack Colman at The Hill:
Keystone has support from lawmakers in both parties and strong backing from business groups. In a political twist, some of Obama’s union allies are quietly urging approval of the project as well, because it would likely create jobs for tradesmen. [The Hill]
Furthermore, the U.S. runs the risk of upsetting relations with Canada if it nixes the project, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial:
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry need to think about the impact of rejection on U.S.-Canada relations. One of the better economic stories of the last 50 years has been the integration of the North American economy, including the free flow of goods, investment, and to some extent people. Rejection of the pipeline would be an insult to Canada and a step back from that integration. [The Wall Street Journal]
With so much in the pipeline's favor, even those who want the U.S. to enact a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are puzzled by the furor it has caused. As The Washington Post writes in an editorial:
The analysis underscores the extent to which activists have trumped up a relatively mundane infrastructure issue into the premier environmental fight of this decade, leading to big marches and acts of civil disobedience to advance a cause that is worthy of neither. The activists ought to pick more important fights. Until they do, the president should ignore their pressure. [The Washington Post]
Obama will have plenty of leeway to greenlight the project — a full 70 percent of Americans approve of the Keystone pipeline, according to a new Fox News poll. But environmentalist groups have pledged to fight it to the death, arguing that it will only encourage the consumption of fossil fuels and could lead to environmental disasters if oil is spilled from the pipeline. "I think if he says yes to Keystone that does turn a lot of folks off," Peter LaFontaine, an official with the National Wildlife Federation, tells The Hill. "I think, being perfectly frank, they lose a pretty big chunk of the electorate that's stood with them in tough times."