Keystone Pipeline Delayed Again, Because Politics

The Obama Administration has once again punted a final decision of the much-ballyhooed Keystone XL pipeline until after the contentious 2014 elections.

This is not the first time this White House has refused to make a decision for political reasons. In 2011, Obama delayed the decision until after the 2012 presidential elections, citing the fact that it was concerned about the route. So TransCanada offered to change the route. Then President Obama said that it would not be built unless there was a guarantee that it would not impact greenhouse gas emissions. And then a report from the State Department found that building the pipeline would not worsen carbon pollution

In fact, the report argues that it could make it worse because the oil would still be extracted at the same rate, but transported by rail for export to the West Coast, rather than shipped through the pipeline. Although the report doesn’t mention it, the carbon footprint would be further expanded by shipping it across the Pacific Ocean on a boat and then used in China, which has far laxer pollution standards than the United States.

That wasn’t the first time that Obama’s State Department has studied the Keystone XL issue and determined it to be environmentally sound. The initial Environmental Safety report found that the project “would have a degree of safety greater than any typically constructed domestic oil people system under current regulations.” A later report went on to find that so long as TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, followed the rules then its “construction and normal operation” should have no significant effect on the environment.

So what’s the deal? Why does the Obama Administration continue to stonewall the project? The Washington Post’s editorial board takes a guess:

We almost hope this was a political call because, on the substance, there should be no question. Without the pipeline, Canada would still export its bitumen — with long-term trends in the global market, it’s far too valuable to keep in the ground — but it would go to China. And, as a State Department report found, U.S. refineries would still import low-quality crude — just from the Middle East. Stopping the pipeline, then, wouldn’t do anything to reduce global warming, but it would almost certainly require more oil to be transported across oceans in tankers.

Of course it’s political! Or, more specifically, it’s about campaign donations. Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and huge donor, has promised not to give any money to candidates that support the Keystone XL. Indeed, his political action committee is funding an ad campaign against Sen. Mary Landrieu, an at-risk Democrat that support the pipeline because the positive impact it would have on Louisiana’s economy.

The White House’s political team isn’t willing to give up that huge amount of campaign cash. But they also know that the Keystone is a political winner in the sense that two-thirds of Americans favor building the pipeline. So whaddya do? You thread the needle by refusing to either approve the project, which would anger big donors like Steyer, or deny the project, which would piss off a majority of voters, particularly those that are concerned about jobs.

Regardless of the perceived wisdom of the political triangulation, it’s sad that politics is getting in the way of what should be a no-brainer policy decision. That’s sentiment was shared by Members from both parties.

“This job creating project has cleared every environmental hurdle and overwhelmingly passed the test of public opinion, yet it’s been blocked for more than 2,000 days,” House Speaker John Boehner said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) agreed, calling the delay “unacceptable.”

“Today’s decision by the Administration amounts to nothing short of an indefinite delay of the Keystone Pipeline,” Landrieu said. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.