Report Shows Keystone XL Wouldn’t Worsen Pollution – So What’s the Hold Up?

The Keystone XL pipeline has somehow become the litmus test for environmental conservation. It’s garnered untold vitriol from the left, hearty adoration from the right, and consequently, tons of attentions from both politicians and the media. But despite all the chatter, there’s been very little focus on the actual impact of the project, which is the main reason why it’s being painted as a caricature rather than a portrait.

A new report from the State Department will hopefully bring the debate back down to earth. The New York Times reports:

The State Department released a report on Friday concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution, leaving an opening for President Obama to approve the politically divisive project.

The department’s long-awaited environmental impact statement appears to indicate that the project could pass the criteria Mr. Obama set forth in a speech last summer when he said he would approve the 1,700-mile pipeline if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Although the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the report appears to indicate that if it were not built, carbon-heavy oil would still be extracted at the same rate from pristine Alberta forest and transported to refineries by rail instead.

Unfortunately, this isn’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 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.

That’s a sly, roundabout way of saying that the left-leaning editorial board hopes it’s politics, because if it’s truly a policy decision then the Obama Administration is being dumb. Fortunately for them, of course it’s politics. The White House doesn’t want to risk the wrath of environmental activists who are threatening to hold “rapid response vigils” at federal offices across the country and “unleash an army” of tens of thousands of activists to commit acts of civil disobedience.

There is no doubt that protecting the environment is important—like the federal budget, it is one of the things that future generations will inherit, so it makes sense to protect it now. But on the Keystone XL issue the ire is misplaced. Building a pipeline according to strict U.S. standards so that it can be processed in heavily-regulated American refineries is an immensely better outcome than putting it on trains, shipping it across Canada, then putting it on a boat to ship it across the Pacific Ocean to China, where it will be refined.

And from a global perspective doesn’t it make a lot more sense to develop an energy relationship with our neighbor to the north rather than continue to rely on questionable actors in the Middle East?

The bottom line is that the Keystone XL shouldn’t be an environmental litmus test. It shouldn’t be a test at all. It should be a no-brainer policy decision that actually protects the environment, promotes the U.S.’s energy interests, and creates tens of thousands of American jobs.