Keystone cops

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The following editorial appeared recently in the Chicago Tribune:

It's going to be a long, long year in Washington.

The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will deny a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, an important link between a U.S. market that's thirsty for energy and a rich source of petroleum in nice, stable, neighborly Canada.

But, the administration said, this doesn't necessarily mean the president is against the Keystone pipeline.

What Obama doesn't like is the Republican tactic to force him to decide now on the pipeline. So, no pipeline. For now.

Yeah, it's going to be a long year until something, anything, gets settled in the November election for the White House and Congress. Until then, we're going to see a lot of this kind of shadow boxing.

In December, Republicans insisted on imposing a deadline for Keystone as part of a deal with Democrats to approve a short extension of payroll tax cuts. Obama wasn't ready to move on Keystone, and Republicans were trying to force his hand. They did, and given the acrimony in Washington, it's no surprise that Obama refused to give Republicans a political victory.

The problem is, Keystone should be approved. This is a good project. It will give us energy and give us jobs. You want stimulus? This is a $7 billion deal to be done with private-sector funding.

Keystone is designed to stretch 1,711 miles down through the Plains from oil-sand deposits in the Canadian province of Alberta to U.S. refineries and terminals along the Gulf Coast. It would make the vast network of pipelines already crisscrossing the central states significantly more efficient.

Labor unions rightly supported the project. But it ran into opposition from environmentalists.

Blocking construction of the Keystone pipeline became the No. 1 objective of the green lobby, which raised concerns that construction and operation would pollute aquifers and destroy wildlife habitats. There just isn't much evidence for those threats, though. Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil. The designers of this particular pipeline engineered it with lavish safeguards. No one need worry about crude gushing out of their shower heads. But you never would have known it from the signs at anti-Keystone protests, which touted slogans such as, "U can't drink oil OR money!"

Gleeful Republicans thought they'd put Obama in a tough spot, choosing between labor and environmentalists. He chose the environmentalists, though we suspect the decisive factor, again, was that he just wasn't going to let Republicans force his hand.

Long year.

The administration says it will review the deal again after sufficient time for appropriate environmental reviews. That likely pushes a decision past the November election.

Of course, two things might happen before then.

Voters might find an alternative for president.

And Canada might find alternative markets for its oil.

Keystone has been an important part of Canada's plan for energy development. But the country's rough treatment at the hands of the U.S. environmental lobby has left bitter feelings.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week that U.S. opposition to the Keystone project is "a wake-up call" that should encourage Canadian industry to develop new markets in Asia. It reflects, he said, "the degree to which we are held hostage to decisions in the United States, and especially decisions that may be made for very bad political reasons."

"Held hostage." Our usually friendly neighbors to the north are not happy.

Obama made a decision that will deny the U.S. a reliable source of oil. Note that Canada has never threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz.

Obama made a decision that will cost the U.S. good jobs. He seems to think those jobs will still be there when he gets around to making a decision on the pipeline. But they may well be gone for good.

(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

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