President Barack Obama faced a tough political decision this week on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. He could order the State Department to approve it, thus alienating his environmental activist supporters, or he could kill the pipeline, thus angering his union allies.
Obama chose to do what he had done 130 times while he was in the Illinois state Senate. He voted present.
The State Department announced Thursday that it would begin developing a second, redundant environmental impact statement for the 1,700-mile pipeline that traverses six states on its route from Alberta, Canada, to Houston, Texas. This buys Obama time well past November 2012. The first environmental assessment, three years in the works, was completed in August. This second assessment will take at least as long the first.
Environmentalists couldn’t care less about Nebraskan drinking water, which is the excuse for this delay. There are already almost 21,000 miles of oil and natural gas pipelines criss-crossing Nebraska. Activists want to kill the Keystone XL pipeline because the oil it will be carrying across Nebraska and five other states comes from tar sands, which they believe contributes more to global warming than other energy sources.
Unions support the pipeline because it will create jobs immediately. It would be completely privately funded.
TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the pipeline, says it will spend $7 billion building the pipeline in the United States. A Canadian Energy Research Institute estimated that this private infrastructure spending could create as many as 435,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2035.
This is not the first time the Obama administration has punted when confronted with a potential wedge issue. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was rescinding proposed ozone regulations that even the EPA admitted would cost the U.S. economy $90 billion annually. In early October, the EPA announced it would not be releasing scheduled particulate matter regulations that farmers worried would cost them billions. Also in October, the EPA announced it would be easing previously issued regulations on cross-state emissions from power plants.
Through the end of last month, the Obama administration had already imposed 214 new regulations with price tags higher than $100 million each, more than any past president. But worse, there is an even larger number of regulations that have been authorized by Congress but not yet written by the federal agencies. A final regulation may be expensive, but at least a business owner can plan around it. An expected but unwritten rule only freezes business in place.