If President Obama believes in his own “all-of-the-above energy strategy,” he will stop stalling and let the Keystone XL pipeline proceed – and pick another, worthier battle in his efforts to address climate change.
His State Department declared Friday in a final environmental impact statement that “the proposed project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas” and won’t have a big effect on the climate.
Given that, it’s hard to imagine how the administration could block completion of the 1,179-mile northern leg of the project, which would stretch from Alberta, Canada, to the existing pipeline near the Nebraska-Kansas border and carry more than 800,000 barrels a day.
But then the politics surrounding the Keystone XL long have made rational decision-making difficult.
Proponents have greatly exaggerated its potential to create jobs, reduce oil prices and further U.S. energy independence.
Opponents have stoked fears about pipeline spills without acknowledging the certainty that the oil sands production will occur and that the heavy crude will be transported somehow and somewhere.
Yes, pipelines can leak, and the report confirmed that Canada’s bitumen is harder to clean up than lighter crude. But in the absence of a finished pipeline, much of the oil will end up being transported by train, including to U.S. refineries. That would increase the already growing risk to public safety from derailments of trains carrying such oil. According to the State Department report, it also would result in 28 to 42 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than if the oil moved via pipeline.
Meanwhile, the president is in no position to ignore even the modest economic benefits of authorizing the Key-stone XL, including the $3.4 billion and 1,950 jobs that construction would contribute to the economy, according to the latest report. Those jobs would be generated over two years in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, the report said; once it was operating, the pipeline would support 50 jobs. The project also is good for U.S.-Canada relations, and the U.S. goal of reducing reliance of Mideast oil.
Environmental groups are stepping up their lobbying of Secretary of State John Kerry as he studies the latest report, confers with other agencies and gathers public input over the coming weeks in advance of a final decision on whether the Keystone XL is in the national interest and should go forward. If a single agency objects, it will become the president’s call.
Obama suggested last year that he would approve Keystone if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” With his own State Department having concluded that it doesn’t, he should set politics aside and get out of its way.