As a senator, Barack Obama was addicted to this particular word: “present.” Time and again Senator Obama employed his favorite word to avoid taking a position on the great issues of the day. Once he was elected president, voting “present” seemed to no longer be an option. Or so we thought.
The president’s decision not to make a decision on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is, in all effects, another present vote. Caught between two opposing points of view, Obama understood that taking one side or another was fraught with political consequences. So, he did what he does best: the president kicked the can down the road.
On the one hand, this administration’s singular inability to do anything to fight unemployment is a huge liability as we roll into the next election cycle. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately bring about 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian oil down to U.S. refineries, would create hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs, and would secure an important source of non-OPEC oil.
If Obama had come out squarely against Keystone XL, he would have left himself open to charges – entirely justified – that he refused to take an action that would have immediate and measurable effect on both the economy and the unemployment situation. Moreover, it would also anger the unions that would stand to benefit from the massive construction project, unions which are important to the president both in terms of campaign contributions and votes.
It would have been idiotic to openly kill the project this close to an election. Think about it. Construction of Keystone XL would result in hundreds of billions of dollars pouring into the economy, much of it in the form of wages, and the government wouldn’t have to shell out even one of our tax dollars to make it happen. How can anybody possibly be against it?
But, on the other hand, the so-called “green vote” is also important to this president. It’s hard to see why. I mean – seriously – is a hard-core enviro-activist going to vote for the Republican candidate? They should, since Republican administrations have been responsible for more draconian environmental statutes than any Democratic administration, but that’s not the way the tree-hugging crowd sees it – reality being something of an alien concept among the greenies.
The enviros despise Keystone XL, for a couple of reasons. They’re certain that oil from the pipeline will leak into shallow aquifers in Nebraska, which will contaminate the water that farmers in the state use to grow government-subsidized corn crops which is turned into government-mandated ethanol at government-subsidized plants.
This would, of course, be a disaster – for the government at least – and it must be admitted that pipelines do leak now and again. On the other hand, a gigantic pile of government laws and regulations ensure that when anyone contaminates soil or groundwater the guilty parties are held financially liable and forced to pay for a thorough clean up.
The occasional instances of contamination associated with pipeline operations have happened before and will happen again. However, the risks are tiny and we have the rules and technology to deal with problems when they happen.
The other objection makes even less sense. The enviros are convinced that if we don’t build Keystone XL then the Canadians won’t be able to sell their evil crude oil and thus the planet will be spared the emissions of the deadly greenhouse gases that would be created by using Canuck crude.
In a world that includes only the United States and Canada, this logic might hold true. Unfortunately, there are a few other nations out there that are more than likely interested in Canadian oil. China and India – nations whose appetites for petroleum grows by leaps and bounds ever year – spring immediately to mind. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty laid that choice out in no uncertain terms.
“The decision to delay it that long is actually quite a crucial decision. I’m not sure this project would survive that kind of delay,” Flaherty said in an interview at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu. “It may mean that we may have to move quickly to ensure that we can export our oil to Asia through British Columbia.”
In fact, China has already made it abundantly clear that they will be more than happy to buy Canadian crude if we don’t. No matter what dreams the enviros have, the fact is that the world’s appetite for oil isn’t going away any time soon.
And so President Obama was caught in between two very important parts of his core constituency. He concluded that he could afford to offend neither and so, as is all so typical of the man, he chose to offend everyone else instead.
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