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America Needs Keystone Pipeline, Not Keystone Kops

by Brandon Greife / /

Rather than move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline – a project that would provide hundreds of thousands jobs (and barrels of oil) – President Obama has turned into a Keystone Kop.

The Keystone Kops were a set of incompetent, fictional policemen that starred in silent film comedies in the 20th century. Their slapstick humor had them constantly running feverishly in conflicting directions, clumsily destroying anything in their path, grasping their bowler caps in consternation, and generally looking confused. Which pretty much sums up the Obama Administration’s response to the Keystone XL pipeline – unsure of what to do and how to do it.

Rather than move forward with the project, which was first proposed in 2008, but has been needlessly stuck in the permitting process, the Obama Administration decided to do what it always does when facing a difficult decision – punt. Yesterday, the Administration announced it was going to review the route of the pipeline, effectively delaying any decision until after the 2012 election.

The decision seems questionable in light of the regulatory hoops that have already been jumped through to ensure the environmental safety of the project.  As reported by Bloomberg, “The State Department said its new study will supplement an environmental impact statement issued in August that found Keystone XL would cause “no significant” environmental damage provided that TransCanada complies with U.S. law.”

Indeed, the impact statement states that, the “DOS [Department of State] determined that incorporation of the Special Conditions would result in a Project that would have a degree of safety greater than any typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current regulations.”

Given the timing of the delay and the questionable basis, some have questioned whether the delay is purely political. By punting the President avoids having to make a decision that would have angered one of his core political constituencies, regardless of the position he took. Support the pipeline and risk the (misplaced) ire of the environmentalists, reject it and lose support from labor unions who realized the pipelines’ job-creating potential.

But while the political calculus was complicated, the economic math was simple – Keystone Pipeline = Jobs + Secure Energy Source.

With the economic recovery continuing to sputter along at stall speed, it is sad that narrow political interests could derail a project with the potential to create thousands of jobs right away.

With nearly 1,000 business in 47 states already providing services to the development of Canadian oil sands (which the pipeline will carry to U.S. refineries), the U.S. is already intimately tied to their success. And yet, in true Keystone Kop fashion, we may have just shot ourselves in the foot. Following announcement of the postponement, the pipeline’s developer said, “If we have to delay too long, this project will not be viable.”

Construction of the Keystone XL, and the development of Canadian oil sands that it would spur, would be a tremendous boon to our economy, both in terms of jobs and a secure supply of oil. But rather than do the obvious thing – the Obama Administration is furiously running around, spinning its wheels, creating more problems than its solving. America needs the Keystone pipeline, not a return of the Keystone Kops.