REVIEW & OUTLOOK WSJ.com AUGUST 26, 2011
The Politics of a Pipeline
State Department takes one step forward, but the greens are furious.
As Winston Churchill once quipped about America, so it often goes with the Obama Presidency: You can count on it to do the right thing—after it's tried everything else. Yesterday's State Department decision to move one step forward with the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico would illustrate the point—except it's still trying everything else.
The proposed TransCanada pipeline, known as Keystone XL, should someday be able to deliver 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. That's a bit more than what the Sultanate of Oman, on the Arabian peninsula, produces. TransCanada also estimates that the project would bring $20 billion in investment and 13,000 new (union) jobs to the U.S., along with some 118,000 "spin-off" jobs. But TransCanada needs State Department approval because the pipeline crosses the 49th parallel.
Getting that approval has turned out to be harder than building the 1,711-mile underground pipeline would be. TransCanada first filed its application in September 2008. After dozens of public meetings, hundreds of thousands of comments, and extensive consultations with the EPA, DOT, USDA, DOI, DOE as well as several other federal and state agencies, State produced a draft environmental impact statement that said the pipeline posed little risk to the environment.
That was in April 2010. But the EPA cried foul, and State went back to work. Sixteen months later, State has now produced its latest impact statement. Volume One alone runs to more than 500 pages, taking in such considerations as "direct impacts to beetles"—and there are eight volumes in all. But the bottom line is that the pipeline poses "no significant impacts" to the environment.
Alas, the saga is far from over. As State noted in a press release yesterday, the impact statement will now be followed by a 90-day review "to determine if the proposed project is in the national interest. This broader evaluation of the application extends beyond environmental impact, taking into account economic, energy security, foreign policy and other relevant issues. During this time the Department will consult with, at least, the eight agencies identified in the Executive Order to obtain their views. The Department will also solicit public comments, both online and in public meetings in the six states the proposed project would traverse and in Washington D.C."
We quote at length because you can't make this stuff up.
Meanwhile, our friends in the green movement are gearing up for a brawl with an Administration they feel has betrayed them. Days of protest outside the White House have led to the arrest of such environmental experts as actress Margot Kidder of Lois Lane fame, who says the pipeline "is bound to leak." The Sierra Club is warning President Obama that it won't "mobilize the environmental base" if he approves projects like Keystone XL. Thus the President finds himself in his usual sour spot of having to choose between new jobs or placating his implacable leftist base.
Your guess is as good as Ms. Kidder's about where Mr. Obama comes down—and it's a pity that the decision will have at least as much to do with his re-election calculations as it does with U.S. energy security and job creation. But as a case study in how political indecision and bureaucratic delay contribute to the sickly economy we have today, the Keystone XL drama has few equals.
Related: [Nutcase] Hansen Says Obama Will Be 'Greenwashing' About Climate Change if He Approves Keystone XL Pipeline