Free Markets, Free People
Samuelson: Obama’s Keystone Pipeline decision an “act of national insanity”
Robert Samuelson, writing in the Washington Post, correctly dissects the Obama decision to reject the Keystone Pipeline into its two proper constituent parts: politics and the net practical effect:
President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn’t often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and — beyond the symbolism — won’t even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his reelection that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.
Aside from the political and public relations victory, environmentalists won’t get much. Stopping the pipeline won’t halt the development of tar sands, to which the Canadian government is committed; therefore, there will be little effect on global-warming emissions. Indeed, Obama’s decision might add to them. If Canada builds a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific for export to Asia, moving all that oil across the ocean by tanker will create extra emissions. There will also be the risk of added spills.
The unions are in his pocket, or so this decision would seem to say. Not in his pocket and not particularly happy with him at the moment are the members of the radical environmentalist movement. He apparently thinks they’re important to his re-election. This was a political move designed to shore up that constituency with the implied promise of permanent rejection of the project after he’s re-elected. That’s the message to them (whether it is true or not, they’ll still vote for him now because they know a Republican will okay it). He most likely figures the unions will suck it up and support him and, my guess now, he’ll find a bone he can throw their way sometime between now and November.
That leaves the practical effect of his rejection to the overall environmentalist goal of “reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. The effect? It will likely mean even more emissions than running the pipeline through the US. As Samuelson points out the tar sands will be developed and exploited, the product will be transported through a pipeline and most likely that pipeline will now run to the west coast of Canada instead of our Gulf refineries. But unlike the trip by pipeline to the coast, there will then be an added step of transporting it by sea to China.
Great win there enviro-types.
But there’s even more damage done by this decision.
Now consider how Obama’s decision hurts the United States. For starters, it insults and antagonizes a strong ally; getting future Canadian cooperation on other issues will be harder. Next, it threatens a large source of relatively secure oil that, combined with new discoveries in the United States, could reduce (though not eliminate) our dependence on insecure foreign oil.
It’s not “relatively secure”, it is very secure. Canada is and has been our largest supplier of “foreign” oil for years. And they’re both a friend and a neighbor. How more secure – other than having the tar sands within our borders – can a supply get? What we have an opportunity to do here is displace the commensurate amount of foreign oil from unfriendly and insecure sources by the amount the tar sands would yield.
Sound like good policy? Sound like a smart move? Of course it does. So why the rejection of such a seemingly common sense decision. See reason one above: politics. This is all about election year politics. The president who claims to have the best interest of all Americans at heart has just demonstrated that that claim is nonsense. He’s catered to a particular election year constituency in deference to what is obviously best for the nation.
…Obama’s decision forgoes all the project’s jobs. There’s some dispute over the magnitude. Project sponsor TransCanada claims 20,000, split between construction (13,000) and manufacturing (7,000) of everything from pumps to control equipment. Apparently, this refers to “job years,” meaning one job for one year. If so, the actual number of jobs would be about half that spread over two years. Whatever the figure, it’s in the thousands and thus important in a country hungering for work. And Keystone XL is precisely the sort of infrastructure project that Obama claims to favor.
What has supposedly been the focus of Obama for some time – that’s right, jobs and infrastructure. His rhetoric has been all about how we need to create jobs and improve our infrastructure. Here you have a infrastructure project – an actual shovel ready one – that will provide jobs and he rejects it and, as usual, tries to shift the blame to Republicans for something he decided. The implication, of course, is he might have made a different decision if they’d have let him vote “present” until after the election. Because, you see, they’ve now forced him to tack this stupid decision on his less than impressive record as president – and now he’ll have to run on it. As usual, the blame-shifter in chief had decided it is someone else’s fault.
And in case you were wondering about the timeline on this project, it goes pretty much like this:
The State Department had spent three years evaluating Keystone and appeared ready to approve the project by year-end 2011. Then the administration, citing opposition to the pipeline’s route in Nebraska, reversed course and postponed a decision to 2013 — after the election.
By the way, the supposed primary excuses for the rejection was the opposition to the pipeline mounted by Nebraska. In fact, as POLITICO reports, the White House used the Republican governor there, Dave Heineman, as cover for its decision. Heineman takes exception to that:
"I want to say I’m very disappointed," Heineman told POLITICO. "I think the president made a mistake."
"Really what he was saying in denying the permit was ‘no’ to American jobs and ‘yes’ to a greater dependence on Middle Eastern oil," he said. "We want to put America back to work."
Why is Heineman disappointed? Because there was a way in the works to let the project go ahead while negotiations were finalized that would have satisfied Heineman and the states initial objections:
He said that his Legislature and his administration were working to get the final approvals in place and that the State Department should have approved conditionally while Nebraska worked out the final route. The company seeking to build the pipeline, TransCanada, was perfectly willing to begin construction at either end and finish in Nebraska, according to Heineman.
But the unilateral president, in a fit of political pique and in full political mode, decided to dump the project … at least for now. Those ready shovels could be breaking ground today. Instead, we have to hope, if and when the decision is reversed, that it hasn’t been overcome by events and Canadians aren’t loading tar sand oil on Chinese ships.
Naturally the administration thinks Heineman’s idea is just, well, inappropriate:
“It’s the responsibility of the State Department to grant this permit, which really looks at the crossing of the international boundary. … It’s important for us to look at the full pipeline and not move forward on such a major infrastructure project that will be a part of the country and the landscape for many years in pieces like that. I hadn’t heard about the governor proposing this, but we don’t really think that’s an approach that really deals with the national interest question in an appropriate way," Assistant Secretary of State Kerri Ann Jones said on a conference call.
Right. Of course. Naturally.
Say’s the governor:
"If you’re a decisive president and you want to put America back to work, you can find a way to get to yes," Heineman said about the administration’s response. "That’s what most governors do. So I’m just not buying that."
Yeah, neither am I. Neither are 70% of the voters.
Politics … pure and simple.
Jobs president? Don’t make me laugh.
National security first? Nope, politics first.
Concerned with all Americans? Seriously?
An “act of national insanity”? Spot on.