No More Excuses for Blocking the Keystone XL Pipeline

Environmentalists have a host of arguments for not building the Keystone XL pipeline.  The pipeline would traverse the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska and the Ogallala aquifer; it would increase global warming by encouraging more development of Canadian tar sands; it would transport oil to the Gulf only to have it trans-exported to other countries.  Finally, it was the subject of an ongoing landowner lawsuit that would have to be resolved before construction began, so the project might be blocked by the courts anyway.

Each of these arguments has been refuted, so the left has come up with an even more fanciful objection.  When oil prices were high, they argued that more supply had failed to reduce prices, so the pipeline would make no difference.  Now that increased supply from fracking and other sources has cut prices by more than half, the same crowd argues that the Keystone XL is not needed because prices are already low.  They now admit that increased oil supply from the pipeline would lower prices, but since prices at the moment are low, why build it?

What the new argument overlooks is the cyclical nature of energy production.  A long-term chart (adjusted for inflation) shows just how volatile oil prices can be.  Short-term, it is possible that prices will decline further and remain low for an extended period.  But it is just as likely that they will bottom out near current levels and move higher.  And it is inevitable that they will eventually move higher.  A veto of the Keystone XL pipeline would assure that higher prices come sooner rather than later and that future prices in aggregate will be higher.

Yet President Obama announced Friday that he is still mulling “complex issues [related to the pipeline] that could bear on U.S. national interests.”  Obama has had six years to mull those issues.  Either he is a slow thinker or he is not being forthright.  He has already threatened a veto if Congress “rushes” a bill through.  (The House passed a bill approving the pipeline on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to pass the measure by the end of the month – not exactly rushing the legislation after years of review.)

Actually, Obama seems to have decided long ago – he just doesn’t want to announce his decision.  Pressured by environmentalist groups, he decided early on that he would never sign off on the pipeline.  As long as the project was still facing review by the State Department or in the courts, he could pretend to be undecided.  Now it’s clear that he intends to wield his pen and block the pipeline for as long as he remains in office.

It’s important to understand the full implications of the president’s veto threat.  Finally, after six years of pretense, Obama’s position and that of his party in regard to the Keystone project is evident.  In return for cash payoffs in the form of campaign contributions and votes at the polls, Democrats are willing to disown the constitutional right of a legitimate corporation to engage in free enterprise.  That is a very serious violation of constitutional rights.

It is also now clear that Obama has always been more interested in political power than in economic recovery.  According to the U.S. Department of State, the Keystone pipeline would create an estimated 42,000 jobs either directly through construction or indirectly via suppliers. Those high-paying jobs would buttress the economic recovery now underway.  They would provide valuable opportunities, especially for younger workers now stuck in minimum-wage or part-time work.  Yet when he has a chance to create those jobs, Obama admits that political support is more important than the well-being of American workers.

Economic recovery never has been Obama’s top priority.  Nor has he been serious about energy independence, despite having given lip service to the issue during both of his presidential campaigns (including 2012, when he visited a section of the already constructed southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma and virtually took credit for building it).

Energy security has never been more important than it is at the present moment.  In the past, Vladimir Putin has disrupted natural gas supplies to Europe in an effort to influence policies toward Russia; it is likely he will do so again or threaten to do so until he gets what he wants.  The Middle East is an unpredictable powder keg in which Islamic militants have the ability to disrupt and eventually control a large portion of the region’s energy production.  Iran’s future course of action is unpredictable.  Other large oil producers, including Venezuela and Nigeria, are unstable.  Given the appeal of radical Islam, even the survival of the Saudi regime is far from certain.

Along with expanded conventional drilling and fracking, oil from the Canadian tar sands would go a long way toward assuring North American energy independence.  The tar sands contain proven reserves of 168 billion barrels.  If the Keystone XL pipeline is not built, much of this oil will be sent to Asia via alternative pipeline routes now under consideration.  If Obama’s veto threat of the Keystone pipeline is allowed to stand, a time will come when Americans may suffer shortages – and the potential for resource blackmail – as foreign energy sources are cut off.

Obama does not understand, or pretends not to understand, the seriousness of this situation.  Or, more likely, he simply does not care.  As was once said of FDR, Obama’s mind seems to be a political “calculating machine,” and his calculation with regard to the Keystone pipeline is that environmental fundraising and votes are more important than jobs and national security.

One can only hope that Congress will override the expected presidential veto, and every citizen can help make this happen by contacting his or her representatives.  Barring an override, it will be at least two years before the next president has a chance to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.  Nearly all Republican hopefuls support the pipeline, but Hillary Clinton’s position is, as often, willfully ambiguous.  As Tim Miller, director of America Rising, put it, Hillary “may be the only person in America without a position on the Keystone Pipeline.”  One suspects that her position is exactly the same as that of President Obama: campaign donations trump economic recovery.  Democrats may find a way to delay the pipeline and the prosperity that comes with it for another eight years.

What is clear is that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is vital for both economic recovery and national security.  Over the past six years, the Obama administration has overseen the slowest economic recovery in modern American history, and failure to approve the Keystone pipeline is an important reason why the recovery has been so slow.

Obama has sacrificed the future of an entire generation of Americans on the cross of climate change.  Citizens need to understand that this administration has never put economic recovery ahead of its own lust for power.  The veto threat hanging over the Keystone XL pipeline is just the latest evidence of this irresponsibility.

Jeffrey Folks is author of many books and articles on American culture and politics, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).