Much has been said in the ten days following the mid-term elections in the United States about the coming confrontation between the President and Congress. The President has publicly warned the soon-to-be Republican controlled Senate that failure to present him with an immigration bill that he can sign will encourage him to go over their heads and order a sweeping reform of immigration policy by executive fiat. For the past four years his Administration has consistently claimed that it is Congressional inaction, and his not his own unwillingness to act, which is the true cause of legislative gridlock.
But there is a glaring incidence of presidential inaction upon which Congress has every right to confront this Administration.
For six years the authorization to complete the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Steele, Nebraska and then onward to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and export, has languished in bureaucratic purgatory. The application for the pipeline (which is actually the third stage in a four part system of conduits which would bring nearly 850,000 gallons of crude a day, traveling 3,251 miles) was first presented in September, 2008, two months before Obama’s first term election. Since then it has met a series of obstacles, first from the State Department and then the EPA and then from a whole range of environmental organizations dogmatically opposed to its construction. Little known by the public is that three other stages of the project have already been completed and are functioning. Only the third stage, which links Canada to Nebraska remains to be built.
It is interesting to note that Keystone and its chief developer,TransCanada, has vaulted almost every hurdle and objection thrown in its path – particularly from environmentalists. An environmental study issued by the State Department on August 26, 2011 claimed that there would be no significant environmental impact of the pipeline along its U.S. traverse. A persistent environmentalist claim that an oil spill from the pipeline would significantly affect drinking water drawn from Ogallala Aquifer – which underlies Nebraska and eight other states – was quickly dispatched. In April , 2013, James Goeke, a professor emeritus from the University of Nebraska who has spent 40 years studying the Aquifer concluded a report in which he stated: “A lot of people in the debate about the pipeline talk about how leakage would foul the water and ruin the entire water supply in the state of Nebraska and that’s just false. A leak from the XL pipeline would pose a minimal risk to the aquifer as a whole.”
The pipeline is supported by every State or Provincial government through which it passes from Alberta to Texas. A recent Pew Research Poll found that 61% of American citizens support its construction. Estimates conclude that it would create 42,000 temporary jobs during construction and up to 2,000 after completion. It could contribute to bringing down the cost of domestic fuel since the Gulf refineries import a great deal of their oil from Venezuela and Nigeria, two countries with whom the United States maintains strained relations. Moreover, the abundant Canadian oil is destined to be sold anyway and will be transported, if not by pipe, then by train or lorry across our continent, two modes of transport far more susceptible to oil spills and devastating environmental damage – as the tragic Lac-Mégantic derailmuent in Quebec on July 6, 2013, demonstrated. It is instructive to note that the oil in the Lac-Mégantic rail cars came from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota, an area that would be served by the Keystone expansion.
So it is quite stunning to hear the President once again talking about the valueless encumbrance that the pipeline will place upon the United States. Speaking in off the cuff remarks in Burma this week he said:
“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”
But, Mr. President, aren’t oil markets global, so that adding the Canadian resource to world supply might also have some kind of impact on the prices U.S. citizens pay at the pump? And won’t Keystone also carry U.S. light oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale?
Someone else must have asked the President this question because his press secretary, Josh Earnest, was later compelled to clarify:
“The President, as you’ll recall in a speech that he delivered last summer, indicated that one of the factors in that review should be the degree to which a project like this would substantially contribute to the causes of climate change,” Earnest said. “So this is a project that is still under review by the State Department to determine whether or not it’s in the national interest.”
Climate change is not in the national interest – so we have been regaled endlessly by this President and his acolytes over the past six years. Putting aside for a moment the highly contentious issue of whether the Canadian oil will actually contribute to climate change (an issue dealt with far better by the Heartland Institute than me) and whether there is any climate change at all ( another fractious subject), why is it then in the national interest to prevent the construction of the pipe itself – a project that is three quarters completed anyway?
As I have stated here earlier, this oil is going to be delivered one way or another – there is no getting around it. So how is the construction of this pipeline – a great economic boon to our most important trading partner and ally in Canada – as well as a boon to the United States in creating jobs and quite possibly decreasing oil prices – likely to affect climate change?
The answer is, of course, that it won’t. The pipeline is just a pipe, nothing more – a modern , effective conduit for oil that is likely to reach its intended destination anyway. The furious objections to the pipeline are therefore not economic nor environmental – they are ideological, political and even religious. The viscous substance traveling in that pipe has become a symbol to Obama and many fellow liberals (who view the world through apocalyptic visions of melting glaciers and massive tidal waves) of doom and human sin. The subscription to this religious narrative produces all kinds of twisted logic and political contortions. It is a deep shame that it has now found its way into the mouth of a man who is so vaunted for his supposed intellect – our President.
The House of Representatives on November 14th, passed a bill approving Keystone 252 to 161. It looks likely to pass the Senate on Friday with a number of Democrats in oil producing states siding with the Republicans to create a 60 seat filibuster-proof majority.
If the Bill is then presented to the President for signature and he proceeds to veto it, the American people will finally know that while a stone wall may have been erected in front of the Capitol Building, a much higher one exists on Pennsylvania Avenue – right in front of the White House itself.