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What Comes Next for the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Will President Obama approve Keystone Pipeline?The Keystone XL Pipeline  is probably one of the last great infrastructure projects of the petroleum era in the U.S., and it will face a pivotal moment some time before the end of February. President Obama is under a two-month deadline to approve or disapprove the massive pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s notorious Alberta Tar Sands down to the midwest and on through to refineries on the Gulf Coast. But heck, why wait two months? Given the conditions of the deadline, President Obama might as well go ahead and cancel the project tomorrow.

Pipeline Politics in an Election Year

The two-month deadline was set by Republicans in Congress, as a rider attached to the new spending bill. Before the rider was voted through, the State Department already warned that two months was not enough time for it to conduct its customary review of a cross-border project (the pipeline is own by TransCanada, a Canadian company). No review, no pipeline – simple, right? In that respect, the rider is a transparent setup that forces the Obama Administration to cancel a massive job-creating infrastructure project in advance of the 2012 elections. If the President truly is boxed into a corner with no way out, why wait until the end of February to cancel the project? Might as well do it now and get it over with.

Organized Labor and the Keystone Pipeline

There has been some talk that President Obama could override the State Department and approve the project. But viewed through the lens of election year politics, the President has little to gain from taking extraordinary measures to push the project through. Sure, the pipeline would create jobs and pump money into the economy, but it does not boast monolithic support from organized labor, one of the President’s key constituencies. A recent post over at Rolling Stone conjectured that approval would pacify the oil industry in advance of the elections, but it’s more likely that the industry will continue bashing the President, directly or through lobbying groups, no matter how many pipelines he approves.

More Energy Jobs for Rural America

One reason why organized labor may continue to support President Obama if he cancels the Keystone pipeline is the Administration’s solid track record of creating jobs in alternative energy, energy conservation, and new energy research and development. That includes the Re-Powering American’s Land initiative, which reclaims brownfields for solar and wind installations, the AgSTAR manure-to-biogas program for livestock farmers, and the REAP biofuel program to create jobs in growing biofuel crops as well as transportation and refining. What these programs have in common is their potential for enabling sustainable economic growth in and around small towns and communities in rural areas, without imposing the kind of public health and environmental risks inherent in the Keystone project.

New Energy Jobs and National Defense

Unlike the Keystone project, all of these initiatives directly support President Obama’s energy policy, which is focused on transitioning the U.S. away from fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic, with long term national defense strategy in mind.  The Department of Defense has

already made it clear that its future capabilities rest on that a strong domestic biofuel industry along with other forms of alternative energy, and that in turn depends on preserving soil and water quality throughout America’s key agricultural regions, where the Keystone pipeline would insert an unwelcome element of risk.

To Approve or Disapprove: That is the Question

If President Obama decides to cancel the pipeline he would be a hero not only to nationally organized environmental groups, but also to the many  local citizens, elected officials and business owners who oppose the pipeline, without necessarily losing significant support from organized labor. On the other hand, given the intensity of Canada’s investment in the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone pipeline, backstage diplomatic considerations could swing the decision. The only real question now is, why wait another two months to face the inevitable?

Photo credit (cropped): Question mark. Some rights reserved by Banjo Brown.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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