Approve the keystone pipe | Don Brunell

The Seattle Times headline said it all, “Obama running out of reasons to reject Keystone XL.”

The Seattle Times headline said it all, “Obama running out of reasons to reject Keystone XL.”

For five years, the Keystone XL pipeline has been mired in studies, red tape and delay.  Now, the State Department has released its final report, concluding that the pipeline would have little or no environmental impact.

The State Department has jurisdiction because the pipeline would cross the U.S. border, carrying 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Western Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing pipeline to refineries in Texas.  The report concluded that, with or without the pipeline, Canada will continue to develop and market its tar sands oil.

The non-significance finding removed the president’s last excuse for not making a decision.  Yet, the White House says, in effect, “not so fast.”  The president will decide only after other federal agencies weigh in, Secretary of State John Kerry makes his recommendation, additional data is considered, and public comments are solicited and reviewed.

Oil industry representatives say it’s time to make a decision.

“Five years, five federal reviews, dozens of public meetings, over a million comments and one conclusion ─ the Keystone XL pipeline is safe for the environment,” said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. “It’s time to put thousands of Americans to work.”

A decision could come as early as this summer, but many observers think that’s unlikely.  After all, this issue has been on Obama’s desk since he took office in 2009.

Why the delay?  Because, for President Obama, the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t about jobs, the environment or energy security; it’s about politics.

While the pipeline has bipartisan support because of its economic benefits, it pits two of President Obama’s most powerful constituencies against each other.

Organized labor supports the pipeline because, during construction, it will create some 4,000 high-paying union jobs and 38,000 indirect jobs.  Environmental activists oppose it as part of their “War on Fossil Fuels” – the same reason they oppose construction of export terminals in Washington state.

Both constituencies have the money and power to make or break political fortunes, both for individual candidates and for the Democratic Party itself. Since a decision will anger one side or the other, President Obama has decided not to decide.

The State Department estimates that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will contribute $3.4 billion to the nation’s economy.  Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) calls it America’s “largest shovel-ready project.”

Referring to Obama’s vow in his State of the Union speech to act decisively and unilaterally on important issues, McConnell said, “If the president meant what he said this week about ‘a year of action,’ he’ll act now on this important project that won’t cost taxpayers a dime but will bring thousands of private-sector jobs to Americans who desperately need them. So, Mr. President, no more stalling – no more excuses.”

While President Obama maintains that creating jobs is his highest priority, his policies don’t always bear that out.

His administration is burying employers under an avalanche of new regulations each year, and the president is well on his way to fulfilling his campaign promise to bankrupt America’s coal industry, which provides nearly 175,000 high-paying jobs and produces 40 percent of America’s electricity.  And while oil and gas production represent one of the few bright spots in our moribund economy, the president vowed in his State of the Union speech to eliminate tax incentives for the industry.

With thousands of high-paying jobs at stake and an opportunity to jumpstart our economy, President Obama says his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will be based on “the national interest.”

Let’s hope so.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist.  He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

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