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Who's Playing Politics on the Keystone XL Pipeline?

“The White House on Tuesday said President Obama had no intention of bowing to a request from the company behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline to delay a decision on the project, saying he wanted to take action before his tenure ends,” the New York Times reports. From the article:

The State Department is reviewing a request made on Monday by the company, TransCanada, to pause its years-long evaluation of the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, which has become part of a broader debate over Mr. Obama’s environmental agenda.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that “there’s reason to suspect that there may be politics at play” in TransCanada’s request. He strongly suggested that the review, which has been widely expected to result in a rejection of the pipeline as soon as this month, remained on track.

“Given how long it’s taken, it seems unusual to me to suggest that somehow it should be paused yet again,” Mr. Earnest said about the evaluation at the State Department, which reviews proposed cross-border projects that require a presidential permit.

The president wants an expeditious decision on KXL—whom does Earnest think he’s kidding? The State Department has been reviewing the project since September 2008—more than five times longer than the average review of cross-border infrastructure projects.

TransCanada and its allies on and off the Hill have continually pushed for timely review and approval. During the administration’s seven-plus years of indecision, the State Department has conducted four major reviews—a Draft Environmental Impact Statement or EIS (April 2010), a Final EIS (August 2011), a Draft Supplemental EIS (March 2013), and a Final Supplemental EIS (Jan. 2014). The big-picture conclusion is always the same. Under the “No Action Alternative” (i.e. the project is not built and operated), Canadian crude still reaches Gulf Coast refineries, except it does so by other routes—rail, barge, smaller pipelines—that are less efficient, emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of oil delivered, and carry greater risk of oil spills, industrial accidents, and fatalities.

State’s statutory role is to render a “national interest determination” on the proposed pipeline. Approval should have been a no-brainer.

  • Do modern commerce and transport chiefly run on petroleum-based products? Yes.
  • Are pipelines the most economical way to transport large volumes of petroleum? Yes.
  • Is Canada our staunch ally and biggest trading partner? Yes.
  • Is Canada already the largest single source of U.S. petroleum imports? Yes.
  • Would the KXL enhance the efficiency of oil transport from Canada to U.S. markets? Yes.
  • Would the KXL support tens of thousands of American jobs and add billions to the GDP during the construction period? Yes.
  • Would all the financing be private and not cost taxpayers a dime? Yes.
  • Would the “no action” alternative likely increase CO2 emissions, oil spills, and fatalities relative to the proposed project? Yes.

So how could building and operating Keystone XL not be in the national interest?

In recent years it has become increasingly clear that Obama’s position on Keystone is based on green politics rather than the merits of State’s environmental reviews. His strategy all along has been one of deny-by-delay – an attempt to exhaust the patience of TransCanada’s investors until the company packs up its marbles and goes home. TransCanada has not given up on the project but sees no prospect of getting a fair shake from Team Obama. Under the circumstances, asking for further delay is the only option left.

Keystone foes accuse the company of “playing politics.” George Orwell, call your office!

Canadians are too polite to explain the dirty game to which they have been subjected, so permit me to state the obvious. TransCanada requests a delay on Keystone until America has a president who won’t play politics with State’s review process, major privately-funded infrastructure projects, and U.S.-Canada relations.