On Keystone pipeline, consider Canada
The Oscar for Best Picture last month went to Argo, the Ben Affleck movie about the Canadian government’s help in spiriting U.S. diplomats out of Iran during the hostage crisis – which underscores the United States’ historic relationship with its closest ally, Canada. Back in the real world, however, the Obama administration is on the verge of severely damaging this strategic partnership with its poor handling of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
The State Department’s favorable draft environmental analysis, released on Friday, should pave the way for final administration approval of the pipeline. Of course, the State Department has already gone through this process once before. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deemed Keystone XL to be in the national interest – only to have President Barack Obama shelve the project in January 2012, during the run-up to his re-election campaign.
If Secretary of State John Kerry reaches the same conclusion as Clinton, as expected in coming weeks, the ball will be back in Obama’s court and the ultimate decision on this important project will be in his hands.
Obama must weigh the thousands of high-paying manufacturing and construction jobs that Keystone XL would create in the United States against the pressure to reject the project from environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. If the Obama administration gives Keystone the thumbs-down, not only would the White House unnecessarily forgo a project that would lead to significant job creation, domestic investment and reduced government debt but it would also do great damage to Washington’s relationship with our neighbors to the north.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called approval of the $7 billion pipeline a “no-brainer.” Which gives you a clue what he would think of Obama if the U.S. president rejected the deal. Other high-ranking Canadian officials have made it clear that such an action would be a diplomatic slap in the face. They have asserted that the oil-sands production would then be brought to market elsewhere. Meanwhile, they say, the U.S. could continue purchasing crude oil from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which Keystone XL could have replaced.
Despite Keystone opponents’ hopes that U.S. rejection of the pipeline will mean the oil would remain in the ground in Alberta, Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., has made clear this is a fantasy.
“The reality is the oil is going to be harvested,” Doer said in a speech last fall. “Oil gets to market. It’s a question of how it gets there. But oil gets to market.”
If Obama rejects Keystone XL, Canadian oil could most likely be processed in China. This would mean crossing the Pacific via tanker, a distribution method far more environmentally risky than via pipeline, and one that entails a larger carbon footprint. The oil would then be produced by Chinese refineries, which lack U.S. refineries’ strong anti-pollution regulations.
So rejection of Keystone could be the worst outcome for the environment – regardless of whether Susan Sarandon, Darrell Hannah, Mark Ruffalo, and other activist actors are protesting the deal by handcuffing themselves to the White House fence.
Obama’s Keystone decision, expected this spring, will also provide hard evidence as to whether his administration is serious about expanding the economy, increasing jobs and improving the lives of ordinary Americans. Which is it, Mr. President? Yes or No?
Keystone’s economic benefit is well documented. The pipeline is projected to create approximately 20,000 high-paying jobs – a big reason the project has labor union support – and generate roughly $7 billion in investment in the U.S. economy. Construction and operation of the pipeline would also lead to a windfall of tax revenue for states extending from North Dakota to Texas.
In a letter to Obama, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall noted that with approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, “U.S. imports from Canada, a democratic friend and ally, could reach 4 million barrels a day by 2020, twice what is currently imported from the Persian Gulf.” As Wall reminded Obama, “Keystone XL Pipeline could also provide the critical infrastructure required to transport growing U.S. domestic production from the Bakken shale region to market.”
That Canadian officials have to plead with Obama to recognize Keystone XL’s economic benefits to his own country’s people is troubling, to say the least.
The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences recognized the importance of the U.S.-Canada alliance at the Oscars last month. Let’s hope Obama doesn’t break the other way by rejecting Keystone – and in the process, antagonize a vital ally.
PHOTO (Top): President Barack Obama meets with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 19, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed
PHOTO (Insert Top): Ben Affleck directed, co-produced and stars in Argo.
PHOTO (Insert Middle): Map depicting the Keystone XL pipeline project linking Alberta, Canada, to southern U.S
PHOTO (Insert Bottom): Police arrest actress Daryl Hannah and other environmental activists opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project during a protest outside White House in Washington, February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst