It seems like just yesterday that high oil prices and the frightening acts of despots in oil-rich countries were fueling cries in this country to produce more oil domestically. The less the United States relied on dangerous trading partners for its energy needs, the better, the thinking went.
But now, in what seems little more than a political move, President Obama has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought much-needed oil from Canada to U.S. refineries in Texas, pushing the nation toward more oil from places other than North America while costing U.S. jobs.
He rejected it for now, that is. Conventional wisdom holds that the president is merely buying time; that he really wants to approve the pipeline, which is an economic no-brainer, but that he needs the support of environmentalists until after the election. Obama said he might approve the pipeline after a better route is found through Nebraska, something that may conveniently take until November or later.
This bit of cynical gamesmanship may end up costing the economy in more ways than one.
The president's supporters say Republicans are the ones playing games. They forced the president's hand by adding a requirement to the payroll-tax extension bill that he make up his mind on the Keystone project within two months. But this criticism ignores the fact that a delayed decision could force Canada to make some fateful decisions of its own.
Despite the concerns of environmentalists, rejecting the pipeline does not reduce the world's, or the nation's, dependence on oil. Instead it increases U.S. dependence on oil from unstable countries, and it forces Canada to begin looking at other markets for the oil it is producing. Canada may well decide to build a pipeline to its own west coast, where the oil then could be shipped to China. The United States then would lose out on the refining jobs the pipeline to Texas would produce, as well as on possible oil supplies from Canada, a stable trading partner.
Even if some of the Canadian oil eventually would be shipped from the United States to other ports, the jobs created would not be insignificant. That hasn't been lost on unions, who have been undergoing considerable internal strife since Obama made his decision.
Politico.com reports that the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the Laborers' International Union of North America are furious over the decision. Laborers' International president Terry O'Sullivan called it "repulsive" and "disgusting" and promised, "We're not going to stand idly by."
We join the environmental community in hoping for the day when clean, renewable energy fuels the world's energy needs. The reality, however, is that the world today depends on cheap oil, and that market forces aren't likely to change that dependency for a long time.
Because much of the world's oil is in the hands of oppressive governments, to delay approval of projects such as the Keystone pipeline for political reasons is to play games with national security. Americans seem to rally around the need for oil extraction from safe trading partners whenever prices hit a certain level or international tensions rise. It ought to be a concern all the time.