Guest Column: Obama’s catastrophic pipeline copout

By David H. Wilkins

The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline offers nothing but promise: tens of thousands of desperately needed jobs, and a big step toward ensuring North American energy security.

But in mid-November, promise gave way to politics when President Barack Obama punted on the pipeline permitting decision, delaying it until after the 2012 election. The Wall Street Journal called the decision a “Keystone Cop-Out.”

I call it a catastrophic cop-out, one with certain economic and diplomatic consequences. The decision on the KXL permit was expected before the end of this year, and elected officials in both Canada and the United States rightly called it a “no-brainer.”

After all, what could be easier than supporting energy exported from a steadfast friend, an ally in the war on terror, and a country deeply committed to environmental stewardship?

What could make more sense than approving a project that means 20,000 new American jobs?

Our nation is struggling to recover from a deep recession, with unemployment continually exceeding 9 percent. And just last month, the president’s own Jobs Council cautiously supported the KXL project — and the environmental impact statement found the pipeline would not cause undo harm.

So, approval didn’t just seem like an easy decision, it looked like an obvious one. So what turned common sense on its head?

Environmental radicals decided the KXL pipeline was their cause célèbre.

Back in 2008, environmentalists had high hopes, with a brand-new president and a Democratic Congress, that their wish list would at last be granted.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, environmental groups have been dealt several setbacks. A climate change bill passed the House by the smallest of margins in 2009, only to die in the Senate — and with it, the promise of legislatively mandated cap-and-trade.

More recently, we’ve seen scandals involving the administration favoring multi-million-dollar loans to renewable energy companies like Solyndra, only to see them file for bankruptcy. With a sputtering economy, Americans put environmental concerns on the back burner. And Congress, likewise, has had no appetite to pass legislation that could be deemed “anti-jobs.”

As a result, the more strident environmentalists were demanding a victory — so when Nebraska expressed concern over the project and started seeking an alternative route to avoid areas in the Sand Hills, the administration had a hook on which to hang the delay.

Now, the State Department is reviewing that alternative route and, conveniently, a decision has been postponed until 2013. The permitting process that usually takes 18 months will now take 54 months. That’s a long time to wait on jobs — especially those “shovel-ready” jobs the president says he wants to create. The KXL project is a 2,700-kilometers-long, $7-billion investment. That’s a whole lot of shovels.

Canada will not stop production of its oil sands. While the United States dithers, other countries will certainly seek out and benefit from partnering with a trustworthy, stable source of energy. The protesters didn’t really accomplish anything related to the environment, but they’ve certainly ensured America’s continued reliance on oil from hostile nations who don’t share the common historic underpinning and commitment to liberty that define the U.S.-Canada relationship.

Several presidents have pledged to bring our country closer to energy security and independence. Yet, the one project that offers a direct pipeline to that goal is now in jeopardy, and with it, the strength and vibrancy of our most important global friendship.

That is a devastatingly high price to pay for a political pass.

David H. Wilkins served as U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2005 to 2009.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2011, issue

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