Politics Trumps the National Interest in Keystone Decision
President Obama’s politically-motivated decision to turn down the Keystone XL pipeline probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it’s informative to learn how the president weighs an economic no-brainer versus a political opportunity. With stubbornly high oil prices and unemployment, his refusal to grant approval for Keystone is easily an embarrassment to our national energy policy. With the progressive green wing already in his camp, it’s a speculative move, at best. Lesson learned: a small probability of political self-promotion trumps the national interest – and the law.
Blaming Congressional conservatives for imposing a “rushed and arbitrary” 60 day deadline to decide on Keystone, the president said that the State Department didn’t have time to fully assess the pipeline. Unfortunately for the president, this accusation is toothless. The State Department has been considering the pipeline route for more than 3 years, and the final Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline – demonstrating no significant environmental threat – was completed last summer. The 60-day deadline wasn’t arbitrary, it was a sad necessity to counter undue delays and pointless dithering.
President Obama also ignored the expressed will of Congress by failing to make a determination of whether the pipeline is in the national interest. As WSJ editorial board member Mary O’Grady wisely points out in an opinion piece this week, the well-crafted language requiring the president’s decision on Keystone XL in 60 days expressly excludes additional considerations of environmental impact. Indeed, in his statement, the president says that his decision, “is not a judgement of the merits of the pipeline,” but reflects a timeline that “prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact” on the environment. We’re well aware of Obama’s determination to bolster his support among the green lobby, but his action to refuse Keystone directly contravened the will of Congress. How does he expect any future investment in American infrastructure if he so flippantly dismisses the letter of the law?
It’s important to note that the Alberta oil sands will be developed whether or not we build a pipeline to take advantage of that new production. Refusing the permit for Keystone doesn’t diminish the immense value of Canadian oil; it simply opens up opportunities for Asian markets. We cannot look at this pipeline as a burden of oil reliance; it is an opportunity to compete for resources, expand trade with a friendly neighbor, and increase our profile in the international energy market. More than that, it’s a private-sector venture that will require skilled labor in a bleak job market. Sure, we’re striving to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it’s our fuel of choice right now, and Canada is an ideal supplier.
The president’s own Jobs Council released their Road Map to Renewal a day before the Keystone decision. This series of recommendations for accelerating job creation and promoting long-term American competitiveness expressly promoted expeditious construction of pipelines to deliver fuel and support jobs. They also condemn “regulatory and permitting obstacles” that threaten the development of energy projects as negatively impacting jobs and weakening our energy infrastructure. This is exactly the kind of obstacle they were referring to.
So why doesn’t the president listen to the advice of the very council he created to coach him on these decisions? If access to energy creates jobs and economic growth, why turn down a major energy infrastructure investment? A day after Obama turned down the pipeline his reelection campaign sent an email asking North Dakotans and Minnesotans for their support on his decision. Setting aside the bold callousness of asking support from the very people the pipeline would have employed – and that his decision on Keystone skirted legality – it’s clear that the campaign is doing their best to turn a bad policy decision into a profitable political point. Capitulating to the demands of the leftist environmental community may well galvanize support for the president in the next reelection, even if that support is gained on the backs of the unemployed.
Thankfully, TransCanada is indicating that they will reapply for the permit to build Keystone XL. After exhaustive study of the pipeline, its route, and any potential environmental impacts, this permit should be approved. The private sector is interested in a major investment to our energy infrastructure; unfortunately they need a green light from an administration that is openly hostile to traditional forms of energy. Rather than currying the favor of environmental activists, the President should stand back and let us invest in job creation, economic growth, national security, and a bright future for American energy.
This piece first appeared on the National Journal Energy & Environment Expert Blog.