Commentary Magazine


Topic: Keystone Pipeline

Obama (Still) Out of Excuses on Keystone

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have always had the science, the politics, and the economics on their side. But the Obama administration, wary of upsetting the extreme voices in the environmentalist movement, has been looking for excuses to defy the science, politics, and economics and trash the pipeline anyway.

Last month, the president ran out of excuses–or so it seemed. The great hope of the left was that the administration could be relied upon to find a kernel of bad news on Keystone that it could exploit and exaggerate to kill the project. Thus they waited with bated breath on the State Department’s environmental impact report. At the end of January, it was released: the State Department confirmed the pipeline “would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The left still had one straw at which to grasp, however. An investigation had been launched into whether the State Department violated conflict-of-interest rules in the course of conducting the environmental review. Yesterday, the inspector general’s report was released, absolving the State Department of the charges:

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Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have always had the science, the politics, and the economics on their side. But the Obama administration, wary of upsetting the extreme voices in the environmentalist movement, has been looking for excuses to defy the science, politics, and economics and trash the pipeline anyway.

Last month, the president ran out of excuses–or so it seemed. The great hope of the left was that the administration could be relied upon to find a kernel of bad news on Keystone that it could exploit and exaggerate to kill the project. Thus they waited with bated breath on the State Department’s environmental impact report. At the end of January, it was released: the State Department confirmed the pipeline “would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The left still had one straw at which to grasp, however. An investigation had been launched into whether the State Department violated conflict-of-interest rules in the course of conducting the environmental review. Yesterday, the inspector general’s report was released, absolving the State Department of the charges:

The State Department’s inspector general largely cleared the department on Wednesday of allegations that it had violated its conflict-of-interest procedures when selecting a contractor to analyze the Keystone XL oil pipeline — the latest in a series of defeats for environmental groups fighting a last-ditch effort to block the project’s approval.

Republicans quickly claimed victory.

“Another day and another government report that finds no reason to continue blocking this common-sense, job-creating project,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement. “It’s long past time the president stop pandering to his extremist allies and just approve it so we can get people back to work.”

The Keystone pipeline system transports oil from Canada to refineries in the U.S. and the “XL” extension would further increase the system’s capacity, creating jobs along the way. The oil from Canada would go somewhere, of course, so blocking the pipeline wouldn’t change the environmental picture, it would simply reject an ally’s mutually beneficial project so leftist extremists wouldn’t be angry with Obama.

For a president who obnoxiously promised to “restore science to its rightful place,” and who has done precisely the opposite, Keystone was a chance for him to come back to reality. He’d rather not. But if the scientific facts, economic benefits, and job creation aren’t convincing to this president, he also has another reason to embrace the pipeline: safety.

There has been an unfortunate amount of scapegoating of the oil industry for accidents involving the rail transport of oil. The oil, after all, doesn’t make a train more likely to crash, regardless of how much the left would like to publicly shame energy companies. But if they don’t want to transport the oil by train, they’ll have to build the pipeline infrastructure necessary to ensure its timely delivery.

Well they don’t have to, I suppose. Perhaps they can teleport it. Or they can try sticking oil into an envelope and have the postal service mail it. Or they can eschew the oil altogether and ask the country’s motorists to follow the Flintstones method of powering their vehicles; the first lady, and her Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign, would surely approve.

This is the natural progression of progressivism, of course. I’ve written before about how the over-regulated state of New Jersey resulted in the government mandating activity it was also essentially legally prohibiting. In such cases, there is almost no way for the average citizen involved in certain activities to follow the law without also breaking the law. It sounds humorous, but to the people living under such a regime it’s not funny at all. It’s also morally repugnant, and evidence of a government filled with bureaucrats mad with power and contempt for the rule of law, to say nothing of basic democracy.

The oil transport situation isn’t quite there yet, to be sure. But it’s reminiscent of the same attitude that leads us there. We must transport oil, but we’re also not allowed to transport oil. The Obama administration is completely out of excuses–the president never had good reasons, only feeble excuses–to reject the pipeline. It’s time to act accordingly.

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Gallup: 57% Favor Keystone Construction

Not surprisingly, the support is highest among Republicans. But a majority of independents and plurality of Democrats support the pipeline construction as well, highlighting just how much of a political miscalculation President Obama made by standing in the way of the Keystone XL.

And while Obama has claimed his objections to the pipeline stem from concern over the safety of the proposed route, the Keystone XL receives the highest support in the states it would cut through. The reason is obvious: the pipeline would bring jobs to areas of the country that badly need them.

The pipeline would travel through the Midwest and the South, and Americans in those two regions are the most likely to approve of the project. Nearly 7 in 10 Midwesterners want the government to approve the building of the pipeline and 61% of those in the South do as well. There has been discussion in Washington and in the media about the potential new jobs the pipeline project would create, which may partly explain the higher support seen in those regions. Americans in the West and East are less likely to approve.

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Not surprisingly, the support is highest among Republicans. But a majority of independents and plurality of Democrats support the pipeline construction as well, highlighting just how much of a political miscalculation President Obama made by standing in the way of the Keystone XL.

And while Obama has claimed his objections to the pipeline stem from concern over the safety of the proposed route, the Keystone XL receives the highest support in the states it would cut through. The reason is obvious: the pipeline would bring jobs to areas of the country that badly need them.

The pipeline would travel through the Midwest and the South, and Americans in those two regions are the most likely to approve of the project. Nearly 7 in 10 Midwesterners want the government to approve the building of the pipeline and 61% of those in the South do as well. There has been discussion in Washington and in the media about the potential new jobs the pipeline project would create, which may partly explain the higher support seen in those regions. Americans in the West and East are less likely to approve.

The pressure is mounting on Obama, and he’s turning to his usual defense strategy of shifting the blame. According to the president, the Republicans are responsible for killing the Keystone XL permit, and all because they wanted to play politics with the issue:

Deep in Republican oil country, Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time review the controversial Keystone pipeline in order to ensure that it wouldn’t compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.

“Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline,” Obama said. “Not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.”

How’s that for projection? Obama created this entire mess for himself by playing politics in the first place. He didn’t want to make a decision on an issue that pitted two of his major groups of supporters against each other during an election year, so he tried to extend the evaluation process until 2013. All Republicans forced him to do was make a decision. And unfortunately for him, he chose the side that the majority of Americans now say they disagree with.

The Obama campaign obviously realizes how toxic this issue is for the president, or they wouldn’t have him out on the campaign trail trying to frantically spin his administration’s energy failures. How desperate is his campaign getting? Based on this video of Obama’s stump speech, it looks like they’re on the edge of panic mode:

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Obama’s Useless Keystone Review

The good news is that President Obama will announce his plan to expedite the review process for the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline at a campaign stop in Cushing, Oklahoma. The bad news is that it will have absolutely no impact on the timeline for pipeline construction, which was already on track to begin as early as June:

TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, Alex Pourbaix, said in an interview March 6 that construction on the Cushing phase of Keystone could begin as soon as June. The company doesn’t expect the new review process to change that schedule, Cunha said yesterday. …

Since the Cushing phase doesn’t cross an international border, it doesn’t require permission from the U.S. Department of State and president, as the full project did. Nonetheless, the Obama administration immediately endorsed TransCanada’s Cushing plan and released a statement in February saying the White House will “take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits.”

So Obama is endorsing a portion of the Keystone pipeline that doesn’t even need his consent for construction, while refusing to approve the only part of the pipeline that actually needs State Department permission. In other words, he’s shuffling around a lot of papers and trying to make it look like he’s doing something.

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The good news is that President Obama will announce his plan to expedite the review process for the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline at a campaign stop in Cushing, Oklahoma. The bad news is that it will have absolutely no impact on the timeline for pipeline construction, which was already on track to begin as early as June:

TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, Alex Pourbaix, said in an interview March 6 that construction on the Cushing phase of Keystone could begin as soon as June. The company doesn’t expect the new review process to change that schedule, Cunha said yesterday. …

Since the Cushing phase doesn’t cross an international border, it doesn’t require permission from the U.S. Department of State and president, as the full project did. Nonetheless, the Obama administration immediately endorsed TransCanada’s Cushing plan and released a statement in February saying the White House will “take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits.”

So Obama is endorsing a portion of the Keystone pipeline that doesn’t even need his consent for construction, while refusing to approve the only part of the pipeline that actually needs State Department permission. In other words, he’s shuffling around a lot of papers and trying to make it look like he’s doing something.

It sounds like the only reason the southern portion of the Keystone pipeline is slated for construction so soon is because the Obama administration’s permission wasn’t necessary in the first place. Of course, now that rising gas prices are cutting into the president’s poll numbers, he’s gratuitously intervening in a project that was already progressing along nicely – and will no doubt try to claim credit for its speedy progress.

House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck said it best: “The approval needed for this leg of the project is so minor and routine that only a desperate administration would inject the president of the United States into the process. This is like the governor holding a press conference to renew my driver’s license — except this announcement still leaves American energy and jobs behind.”

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Can’t Explain Team Obama’s Positions? Neither Can Axelrod.

Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

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Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

I understand that some decisions are impossible to defend. But one might expect the top political aide for the president to at least offer some serious counterarguments and a plausible defense of his administration’s policies. But we saw none of that. What was on display was a third-rate political hack trying to bluff his way through an interview. It bordered on being embarrassing.

I should add that one cans see how wholly unprepared Mr. Axelrod is for an interview that actually asks of him tough questions. He’s clearly used to being pampered by people like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and it shows.

If this interview reflects the precision and professionalism of Team Obama, then this election might be easer for the GOP to win than I had imagined.

It’s clear to me that when it comes to substance and governing knowledge and ability, the president isn’t the only one in over his head; so is his senior political adviser.

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