The Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to refineries in Texas and give a major boost to the U.S. economy, is the hot-button issue when it comes to the payroll tax cut package. The legislation says that the President should issue a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline 60 days after enactment of the legislation unless the President finds that the project is not in the national interest. Representatives Henry Waxman (D–CA) and Ed Markey (D–MA) told Politico that they do not expect President Obama to approve the construction, even if Keystone XL language reaches his desk.
Waxman said, “I think it’s shortsighted for the Republicans to force a decision without giving the President enough time to fully consider it. And if they force him to do that, it’d seem to me, the only logical thing for him to do is to say no to it.” Markey added, “We expect the President to still reject the commencement of the construction of the pipeline until there is a full completion of an environmental review.”
The reality is that the State Department has already conducted a thorough, three-year environmental review and concluded that the pipeline poses minimal environmental risk to soil, wetlands, water resources, vegetation, fish, and wildlife, and creates few greenhouse-gas emissions. Keystone XL also met 57 specific pipeline safety standard requirements created by the State Department and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The State Department, Nebraska officials, and pipeline firm TransCanada even agreed to reroute the pipeline path in Nebraska to avoid a water aquifer. This can be accomplished without the federal government’s involvement.
Before President Obama postponed this decision until after the 2012 election, the White House claimed it would announce a decision by the end of the year—so there can be no claim that this decision snuck up on the President.
While many Democrats have fallen silent on Keystone, it wasn’t too long ago that they were on the front lines urging the President to approve the pipeline permit. On October 19, 22 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama pleading that “America needs the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is in our national interest to have a Presidential Permit issued for Keystone XL as soon as possible.” The letter mentioned that “The Department of State’s Final Environmental Impact Statement reaffirmed the findings of the two previous environmental impact statements, namely, that the Keystone XL Pipeline will have no significant impact on the environment.”
Understanding the economic implications, Senators Max Baucus (D–MT), Jon Tester (D–MT), Joe Manchin (D–WV), Ben Nelson (D–NE), Mark Begich (D–AK), and Mary Landrieu (D–LA) have all expressed support for the pipeline.
A simple, effective approach would be for Congress to authorize the pipeline application as submitted by TransCanada, pursuant to its authority to regulate commerce with other nations. Since there is no federal entity that sites and authorizes interstate petroleum pipeline construction, the state of Nebraska could site and approve an alternative route, following the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s construction codes.
The construction of the Keystone pipeline would mean thousands of jobs and more energy from a friendly supplier with minimal environmental impact. For President Obama, delaying any Keystone XL pipeline verdict until after next year’s election may be a smart political move. But for a country struggling to create jobs and meet energy demands, it is not a suitable decision.