Hamlet Obama: Giving Slow Walking a Bad Name

The fact that the State Department has issued its “fifth final environmental impact statement” is unambiguous evidence that President Obama is attempting to run out the clock to avoid making a decision as long as he can. Unlike Hamlet, who couldn’t decide, the President simply won’t decide. The delay in approving Keystone XL Pipeline’s final leg is irresponsible.

Time and study after study have demonstrated that moving Canadian oil to the US is in both countries best interests and that there is no valid reason for dragging out the decision. After five years of additional study and foot dragging any reasonable person would conclude that this is a case of deliberate avoidance. The President has been pandering to his environmental base at the expense of our national interests, good trade policy, and badly needed economic benefits.

Last October, IHS CERA issued a report—Critical Questions for the Canadian Oil Sands—that addressed the major questions that have been asked and answered over and over. It demonstrated that there is no valid basis for continued delay. The report shows that GHG emissions when looked on a “wells to Wheels” basis have been grossly overblown. IHS concluded that “sources of supply from other oil-producing regions are in the same range as oil sands.” And, as has been observed over and over, the oil sands will be produced. If the oil doesn’t come to the US and isn’t refined in US refineries, it will most likely go to the far east where transportation would be less safe than by pipeline, refineries would not be as well run as ours and where environmental regulations would be less strict.

While the Obama administration has been slow walking approval, other legs of the Keystone XL pipeline have been completed and Canadian oil has been shipped by rail. The accidents that have occurred have provided further evidence of why the pipeline should be completed. A preponderance of evidence has shown that pipelines are the most efficient and safest way to transport oil. Access to additional pipeline capacity in the US has loosened the bottleneck on oil transportation in the lower 48. That has increased efficiency in movement and refining.

While US energy imports have significantly declined in the past 5-6 years, as a result of “fracking” and access to private lands, they are not zero. Canada is our largest supplier and as IHS observed, “Canadian crude oil imports totaled…about 28% of total US crude imports. Much of this—1.5 mbd, or about 18% of US imports—is from the oil sands. In fact, the oil sands alone are now the largest foreign source of US oil supply, providing more oil than Saudi Arabia.” IHS also observed that replacing imports from less stable and more distant regions with Canadian oil increases our energy security.

In his state of the union, the President made a strong case for increased free trade authority. What good is that if he won’t use his existing authority? Canada, which has a special relationship with the US and is our largest supplier of imported oil, is seeing trade thwarted by a refusal to make a decision that is obvious to everyone except ideologues. The President is damaging a special relationship with a good friend and good trading partner. Actions have consequences.

As is becoming more obvious, the climate change argument for delay has a crumbling foundation. Using it to hold up an excellent energy and job creation project is shameful. Unfortunately, what is best for the nation and our economy takes a back seat to partisan politics. With control of the Senate in the balance come November, the President will attempt to use Keystone to rally his base by continuing to delay. But, continued delay cuts both ways politically, so dragging out the decision will also have political costs.

The message to the President on Keystone, as well as a host of economic issues, should be “do the right thing and the let the chips fall where they may.”

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