Obama delays Keystone Pipeline

Posted by Christine, January 22, 2012

The San Jose Mercury News editorial:

President — finally — stands up to GOP, Big Oil

President Barack Obama finally seems to be standing his ground in the philosophical fight with Republicans over the direction of the country.

The decision to not approve the Keystone oil pipeline was the right one. Obama clearly signaled to Republicans, Big Oil and his own supporters that he won’t be blackmailed into a rushed judgment on an environmentally sensitive project that has not been adequately studied.

Now, of course, the GOP will say that Obama failed to grasp an opportunity to create jobs. But he’s on solid ground. This was an obvious political ploy, and caving in would have left the president — and the nation — in a far worse position.

House Republicans, backed by the petroleum industry, forced the president’s hand by inserting language into the payroll tax bill that required him to say yes or no to the pipeline within 60 days. It was preposterous. The 1,700-mile route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t even been established, in part because of possible risks to Nebraska’s drinking water. And that’s not just environmentalist carping. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, is one of many who think the proposed route doesn’t work because it runs through a crucial aquifer in his state.

Heineman knows the risks are real. A similar existing pipeline has leaked nearly a dozen times in the past year, and a spill from a tar sands oil pipeline in Michigan in 2010 dumped 800,000 gallons into a creek that feedsthe Kalamazoo River, causing severe damage and proving to be significantly more difficult to clean up than expected.

Pipeline proponents are hammering the president’s decision, repeating assertions that the pipeline oil supplies would create as many as 250,000 jobs across the country over the long term. According to GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, “If Americans want to understand why unemployment in the United States has been stuck above 8 percent for the longest stretch since the Great Depression, decisions like this one are the place to begin.”

However, the oil industry’s job numbers for the project are wildly inflated. Like job estimates for the high-speed rail project in California, Keystone really counted job years — one year of work for one person — and expressed them as jobs. Independent sources now are estimating about 6,000 actual temporary construction jobs, which would barely put a dent in national unemployment numbers.

Obama didn’t rule out the pipeline altogether, but he should have. Rather than encouraging huge investments to eke out a few more years of fossil fuel addiction, the United States should be encouraging clean energy projects that are proven job creators, building on Silicon Valley tech expertise and making the country more competitive on the world stage. Oh, and reducing global warming: The pipeline and the method of oil extraction that would feed it are horrific generators of greenhouse gases.

Obama’s decision postpones that debate for another day, but he did what he needed to do now. He showed he would not pander. He also showed that he will stand up for the rights of Americans to clean water supplies — even Americans in Republican states such as Nebraska.

Good thing Heineman didn’t have to rely on his own party to watch his back.

The Fairfield, California Reporter has a different view:

Pipeline not delivering oil, but plenty of politics

The Washington insider newspaper Politico described President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the planned Canada-U.S. Keystone XL pipeline as a political “win-win” for both parties.

The reasoning is that the Republicans would attract independent voters angered by high gas prices — although it would be years before the Canadian oil would reach the market and affect prices — and attract generous political contributions from the oil companies, a slightly better bet politically.

Meanwhile, the environmentalists would be jolted out of their political lethargy and hit the bricks for Obama’s re-election, and the construction unions, who really want the project and the jobs, would have no choice but to stick with Obama because the Republicans have become anathema to most of labor.

Whatever the political benefits of the decision, it is a lose-lose for domestic energy policy and our relations with Canada.

Technically, the pipeline is not dead; a final decision has only been delayed while a more acceptable route through an environmentally sensitive region of Nebraska is negotiated. Obama is merely rejecting the project to circumvent a Feb. 21 deadline imposed on him by Congress, giving him more time to review the route.

The White House would like to stall the whole business until after the election, but he may not have that luxury.

The Canadians professed themselves “profoundly disappointed” by the decision and pointedly noted that there is another energy project on the boards, a $5.4 billion pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to ports in British Columbia where the oil could be sold to eager Asian buyers.

Already, the Republicans are trying to make the pipeline a campaign issue. “Obama is destroying tens of thousands of American jobs and shipping American energy security to the Chinese,” said House Speaker John Boehner, exaggerating on both counts. (The number of potential jobs tends to fluctuate wildly depending which side of the argument is trying to make the case.)

Obama insisted that his announcement was “not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline,” but on “the arbitrary nature of the deadline.” OK. The deadline is now a moot point, but negotiations should begin on an acceptable route and protections for the water table. After all, the disputed section is only 65 miles in Nebraska, a small fraction of the line’s 1,700-mile length.

Sparsely populated western Canada and eastern Alaska have immense oil and natural-gas reserves, and the lower 48 states are the natural market for them. Ethanol, solar panels, windmills, dim light bulbs, bike paths and switchgrass are all very nice, but they’re not going to do it for us. At best, they chip away at the margins of our energy needs.

North America has the capacity to be self-sufficient in oil and gas, but we shouldn’t wait until a crisis point — or the politics are just right — to do something about it.