Dan Reed

Keystone XL Decision Wrapped Up in Politics

Nineteen months and counting.

The United States’ involvement in World War II – the greatest undertaking in the history of mankind – lasted 45 months. But it has been 64 months since TransCanada asked the U.S. government for permission to build a 1,179-mile long pipeline from northern Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb. From there, crude from Alberta’ tar sands would be sent through an existing pipeline to Cushing, Okla., and, eventually to Nederland, Texas and the many refineries along the Gulf Coast.

No doubt building such a long pipeline over difficult land that, in some cases, is environmentally sensitive, is a big challenge that deserves careful environmental review. But compared with fighting and winning a two-front global war to defeat two fanatical, racist, egotistical power cabals, reviewing the Keystone XL project is about as difficult as building a robot out of Legos.

So, come on, already. Decide!

Canada Growing Impatient On Keystone XL Decision

That, essentially, was the message that Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird delivered in mid-January at an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Baird even went so far as to say that he would prefer the Obama Administration to deny the request than continue delaying it.

Wow! The mild-mannered and forever-polite Canadians finally are talking tough to an American administration!

Oh no, wait. Stephen Harper, Canada’s conservative Prime Minister, had said a week earlier that he’s confident that Keystone XL eventually will get built, even if the Obama Administration dithers further or rejects the project.

Given such an easy out by the mixed message coming from north of the border, the Obama Administration quickly made it clear that it continues to be in no hurry to make a Keystone XL decision. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been openly sympathetic to the environmentalist groups that dislike the suggested pipeline, gave Baird the brush-off.

After a Year, Still No Effort from Kerry

Kerry, whose department controls the review of the Keystone XL project because it crosses an international border, made a public appearance with Baird the day after Baird’s remarks at the Chamber meeting. In response to a question about Baird’s newly-expressed impatience, Kerry shrugged and said, “My hope is that before long that analysis will be available, and then my work begins.”

It was the diplomatic equivalent of gently swatting away a fly.

Kerry, who has been in office a full year now, has spent zero time on the subject. Instead, he has focused almost exclusively on matters of war and peace in the Middle East and Asia. But it is clear to everyone paying attention that if his boss in the White House wanted to make a decision on Keystone XL, the State Department’ analysis would be completed and on his desk by noon tomorrow. Instead, suspicion is growing that President Obama plans to delay a Keystone XL decision until at least next fall.

Politics Playing Major Role in Decision

Politically, the president is being pinched. He’s suffering from low approval ratings derived from his push for increasingly unpopular liberal policies such as the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform proposals. On the other hand, Obama is under pressure from the environmentalist groups that form his political base who have been disappointed by him thus far and have grown distrustful of him.

The president recognizes that rejecting Keystone XL this far in advance of next fall’s elections will hurt Democratic Congressional and Senatorial candidates running in swing states. Conversely, the President knows that approving Keystone now would do serious damage to those same Democratic candidates’ fund-raising efforts heading into the campaign season.

So, politically, the best decision on Keystone XL right now is to make no decision at all.

Harper and Baird, being politicians themselves, understand Obama’s predicament. But despite their frustration with Obama over his Keystone delays, they believe North American and global energy economics make construction of the pipeline inevitable, even if they have to wait until Obama leaves office for construction to begin.

For that matter, it is obvious that even Obama believes Keystone XL is inevitable because the economic case for it is so overwhelming. Why else would the President string out the review and decision process so long? If the economics weren’t overwhelmingly in favor of building Keystone XL, Obama would have given his greatly disappointed green supporters the big, public victory they’ve been craving since the day he took office.

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