Lessons from Keystone – National Post Editorial (National Post – November 21, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Two weeks ago, the United States State Department, at the behest of the White House, unexpectedly postponed until after next November’s U.S. presidential election a decision on whether to permit the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. Their official reason?

The proposed route threatened a vital aquifer in Nebraska. A detour might be necessary and evaluating the feasibility of a new route would take 13 to 16 months, which (entirely coincidentally, we’re sure) would bury the controversy until after the 2012 presidential vote. Moreover, the State Department explained, Nebraska was opposed to the Keystone route.

Then on Wednesday, the Nebraska state legislature voted unanimously to approve a proposed new route around the underground river and pipeline-owner TransCanada mused about building the southern portion of the line (from Texas up to Nebraska), even before the White House had signed off on the Nebraska diversion. It’s unclear whether this last-breaking moment of sanity and cooperation will be enough to salvage a worthy project.

While much of the blame for any delays and detours clearly lies with the Obama administration and its political goals (as discussed elsewhere on this page by Charles Krauthammer), Nebraska and TransCanada must also share some of the responsibility: If a compromise had been reached a year, a month or even a week earlier, the White House would have had no political cover to delay construction.

And the decision to delay could easily have been foreseen. Two pillars of President Obama’s political base stand on opposing side of the Keystone debate. Organized labour is very much in favour of giving construction the go-ahead, since most of the 20,000 workers the pipeline would employ would be union members. The Pipefitters, Operating Engineers, Teamsters and Laborers have all urged Mr. Obama to approve.

Meanwhile, environmentalists and idealistic young voters are very much opposed, not just because they believe construction will harm the environment, but mostly because they believe oil from Alberta’s oil sands is “dirty oil.” Eco-fanatics and Hollywood celebrities have made closing down the oil sands their cause-de-jour.

Mr. Obama needs every friend (and voter) he can find in order to get re-elected next year. He can’t afford to alienate any section of his core supporters. So by postponing a decision for another 13 or more months, he was hoping to keep the support of organized labour, with it huge campaign donations and legions of volunteers, while also hanging onto the eco-activists with their passion and mastery of social media.

For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/Lessons+from+Keystone/5742030/story.html