Yesterday, the State Department decided to delay action on a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The stated reason for the delay was to provide further analysis on the environmental impact of the pipeline, particularly in Nebraska.
Opponents of the president instantly branded the decision as purely political, dictated by the Obama 2012 campaign to pacify environmentalists. In the days leading up to the decision, news outlets had billed it as a choice for President Obama between jobs and his environmentalist base. And, some are noticing that the administration merely kicked the can down the street until after the 2012 election. Many are claiming that the delay will kill the project’s chances. Even the News Journal editorial board is criticizing Obama for a political decision that will cost jobs.
But here’s what everyone seems to be missing: regardless of the politics, this is the right decision for the country, particularly for the Midwest.
- Keystone I, the first Keystone pipeline, leaked 12 times in its first 12 months.
- The new pipeline route bisects the Ogallala Aquifer. Contaminate that aquifer and you destroy 20% of America’s farmland, not to mention the further effects of a spike in corn prices, which lead to insane food inflation due to the fact that corn is used to make most of what you see in the grocery store.
- The Keystone XL route goes right through the epicenter of Saturday’s earthquake in Oklahoma.
- The pipeline, if constructed, would likely have no effect on gas prices.
- This PDF, from Cornell, shows that the job claims about the project are greatly exaggerated, and that the permanent American workers from the project number in the hundreds, if that.
- Tar sands bitumen is significantly dirtier-burning fuel than even conventional oil.
So without delving into the politics of unions and environmentalists, of money vs. the planet and of “jobs” vs. “climate change,” this clearly appears to me to be a decision that mitigates a huge environmental risk without any real downside to Americans.
And for those who think it was a political decision, it appears that the environmentalists are pleased, but not sold:
As amazing as this progress is, however, let’s not delude ourselves: President Obama is just kicking the climate can down the road to a point when he may not even be in a position to decide its fate. In the not-unlikely scenario that he loses reelection, approving the tar-sands pipeline will be an easy way for President Romney to give Big Oil a huge thank-you gift for all the help they provide him during the 2012 election. This decision just postpones a green light for the pipeline by a year. And it’s unclear to what extent the administration is really reconsidering the pipeline, or just reconsidering the poorly chosen pipeline route.
That’s why I’m a little dismayed at suggestions that this kick-the-can decision means environmentalists will enthusiastically back President Obama in 2012. Is the price of an environmentalist’s vote a year’s delay on environmental catastrophe? Excuse me, no.
In the end, it was the right decision, perhaps made for the wrong reasons, and maybe not enough to close the deal with the green movement, but it worked out for most of us nonetheless.