More than three years after an initial permit application was filed and following the submission of hundreds and hundreds of pages of additional documents, President Obama announced that he was rejecting TransCanada’s proposal to construct the Keystone XL pipeline because his administration supposedly wasn’t given sufficient time to review the project. Newt Gingrich called the decision “stunningly stupid” and it’s hard to argue with the former speaker on this one.
The president tried to duck responsibility for the decision, pointing the finger at Republicans in Congress who attached a pipeline provision to the short-term payroll tax cut extension approved last year that required Obama to approve Keystone XL by February 21 or explain why he was killing the project. This is yet another example of the President’s “the buck stops there” approach to leadership.
"This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people," Obama said. "I'm disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my administration's commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil."
The president would have us believe that the State Department had but sixty days to review the project and they couldn’t possibly come to a decision in that short a time. In fact, the State Department has been reviewing the proposed project for over three years. In setting a deadline for the decision, congressional Republicans were not imposing an arbitrary, unreasonable deadline. They were rather attempting to force an end to the dithering and waffling that has gone on for far too long.
The amount of documentation that has been filed and reviewed since TransCanada first filed its permit application in September 2008 is staggering. The company has submitted thousands of pages of data, plans, maps, studies and all of the other bureaucratic flotsam and jetsam that government requires these days. In response, the State Department has generated thousands of pages of its own, including a Final Environmental Impact Statement that spans eight massive volumes. The president’s claim that his administration didn’t have “the information necessary to approve the project” defies credulity. The administration has a mountain of information, and it’s all available on the Internet.
What was really wanting here was time to respond to all of the complaints and pseudo-concerns that obstructionist groups like the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council have raised in their attempts to kill the project. As part of our dysfunctional regulatory system, well-heeled environmental groups can (and do) file a practically endless number of comments when permit applications are being reviewed. Typically, the vast majority of such comments are without merit, but that’s not the point as far as the environmental groups are concerned. Their aim is to gum up the works of the system, in the hopes that developers will tire of the process and give up, as well as to establish the basis of the lawsuits that inevitably follow any regulatory decision that runs contrary to their wishes.
At some point, the chief executive has an obligation to say “enough is enough” and press forward. But, this isn’t a chief executive who’s willing to make a stand of any kind. The answer to the question “how long will it take before Obama has the sense to stand up to the radical environmentalist portion of his base?” remains unknown, but we know this for sure: that answer involves more than three years per issue.
Environmentalist opposition to Keystone XL typically fell into one of two categories: that the pipeline would supposedly endanger sensitive aquifers in Nebraska and that utilizing this particular form of crude would be “dirtier” than using other forms for crude. Neither claim holds up to any scrutiny.
The aquifer issue presupposes a number of faulty precepts. It implies that Keystone XL will be invading virgin territory that has never seen the likes of a pipeline before. In fact, as the Heartland Institute has documented, thousands of miles of pipelines already crisscross the Ogallala aquifer and Keystone XL will cut a relatively small portion of it. Worrying about spills and contamination is another red herring. The regulations and technologies to prevent spills and to quickly clean them up in the event that one should occur are as advanced as they ever have been. Of all of the many pipelines that cross the Ogallala, Keystone XL would be the most modern, most regulated, most protected and, accordingly, the least to worry about.
The dirty crude issue is equally spurious, because the amount of contamination in crude ultimately doesn’t matter. American refiners have to meet the same clean air and clean water standards no matter what kind of crude they’re dealing with. What about the pipeline’s carbon footprint, you may ask. Personally, I don’t worry about such things, but if you do you ought to rest easy. When one does a complete life-cycle analysis (as opposed to the abbreviated versions that environmental groups do in order to support their theories) crude from Alberta is about middle of the pack in terms of net greenhouse gas emissions impact.
Keystone XL would have delivered almost 900,000 barrels of crude to American refiners per day, taking a serious dent out of imports from overseas. It would have created tens of thousands of jobs and generated billions in revenue. It’s a project that’s all upside and it’s hard to understand why any president would want to kill it, particularly in this economy.
Fortunately, the project isn’t dead yet. Keystone XL immediately announced its intention to reapply for a permit. At the same time, it appears that there is a good deal of bi-partisan support in Congress to take the decision out of the president’s hands. With a competing pipeline route that would ship Canadian crude to China under consideration, we can only hope that Congress does indeed take action and soon. For, as yesterday’s announcement so clearly demonstrates, action is not a word in this administration’s vocabulary when it comes to fixing our ailing economy and addressing our energy woes.
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