Leadership: AWOL

The President’s slow walking on such an important energy project could make a glacier’s movement seem like a sprint. Shameless and inexcusable are the only words that come to mind for the President’s inaction. It is ironic that the President has spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks talking about income inequality while at the same time trying to find a a way to kill a project that would invest over $7 billion and create a large number of good paying jobs. Doesn’t that behavior constitute hypocrisy?

Although there has been a debate over how many jobs—direct and indirect—would be created, the number is not trivial. The developer, TransCanada says that it will create 20,000 jobs while a report by the Perryman Group concludes that an additional 118,000 indirect jobs will be added by as many as 1,000 companies in 47 states. How many of these jobs are permanent or temporary is less important than the fact that Keystone XL will make a significant economic contribution to the US economy and to reducing unemployment at a time when economic growth is halting.

The State Department’s extension of the comment and review period because of litigation in the state of Nebraska is pure bunk. That is a state matter that has no bearing on the decision to grant a permit so the pipeline can cross an international boundary. The State Department is simply being the tool for political pandering to environmental zealots and big dollar liberal financial donors.

On the merits, Keystone XL should have been approved several years ago. The President is demonstrating why the late James Schlesinger gave US energy policy a D+ struggling toward C but never making it. He would give this stunt a resounding F.

Dragging the approval process to November or beyond is clearly designed to pander to the President’s base and allow vulnerable democrats to burnish their records by attacking the President for foot dragging. As the National Review’s Rich Lowry observed the simple explanation for another delay is to placate “Tom Steyer, as well as the liberal donors and climate activists allied with him, is getting his way” since he is a big democratic fundraiser.

The $100 million that Steyer plans to spend opposing Keystone and advancing an anti-fossil energy climate plan may rally enough opposition to kill Keystone or cause the Canadian government to throw up its hands in disgust. That would be a tragic economic loss with no environmental benefits. Left unsaid is the fact that without the pipeline crossing the border, Canadian oil will come here by rail – a process that is less safe and produces more of the emissions Steyer wants to reduce. Kimberly Strassel in a WSJ article, Tom Steyer’s Glass House, raises an important question about motivation. Is his opposition to Keystone a tactic to enhance the value of his natural gas holdings? Is he just another crony capitalist?

The public activities to kill Keystone could produce a backlash from voters, and especially people who have been disadvantaged by an anemic economic recovery. They might react in disgust at “politics as usual and an elitist billionaire trying to stifle their economic ambitions.

Since Keystone stands to benefit a large number of unions, they and their workers can be expected to be just as vocal at the grass roots. Recently, the president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America called the delay a “gutless move …politics at its worst,” and “another low blow to the working men and women of our country.”

This is a classic example of Ayn Rand’s observation: “Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others.”

This article appeared on the National Journal Energy Insiders weblog at http://disqus.com/wokeefe/

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