If he vetoes the Republican attempt to force him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, President Barack Obama will be making a mistake.
Not because he’s rejecting an overreaching Congress. He is and should, though he’ll likely have plenty of other opportunities through next year.
The president is making a mistake because he continues to dither about an issue that his administration should have decided years ago.
That White House officials haven’t shows both how paralyzed they are by single-minded environmentalist pressure, and how loath they are to do the right thing when it runs afoul of political alliances.
Keystone XL, proposed in 2008, would massively increase the ability to move oil by pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the refineries on the Texas coast. Because the pipeline would cross an international border, approval falls to the White House.
In recent years, the administration’s internal debate has exposed a schism between the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. Officials have disagreed over the potential for contamination of groundwater and native lands, and about the impact on global warming and property rights and employment.
The lobbying — from the oil industry and from the environmental community — has been apocalyptic. Petroleum interests have wildly inflated the number of jobs the pipeline would create, a tactic Hampton Roads has seen in the debate over offshore drilling.
Environmentalists have warned that building the pipeline will hasten the weather disasters and rising seas attendant to global warming.
The petroleum produced there is indeed nasty, environmentally horrible stuff. It takes huge amounts of energy to produce and creates terrible pollution of water and air. Extracting oil from tar sands contributes disproportionately to global warming, so much so that some environmentalists believe it could tip the planet out of climatic balance.
Stopping the pipeline won’t prevent that. As long as oil is valuable, the tar sands will be tapped.
But halting the pipeline will ensure that more tar sands oil is transported by truck or rail car, increasing the likelihood of spills from crashes or derailments like the ones in West Virginia last week and in Lynchburg last year. Or in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a disaster that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the downtown, causing more than $1 billion in damages.
This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation predicted that the next two decades would bring an average of 10 oil-car derailments each year, causing more than $4 billion in damages. If one of those trains explodes in a major city, the damages could be far higher.
Pipelines certainly aren’t without risk — including spills and sabotage — but the potential for disaster is much less than when transporting oil by rail car or truck.
Such responsible calculus has been notably absent in Washington. The Keystone XL debate is a proxy for the city’s continual power struggle, one that has become uglier as the levers of government have become extreme.
The pipeline push from Congress is just one of many forays by Republican lawmakers seeking to overturn the executive decisions of a frustrated Democratic president.
Obama has undoubtedly stretched his authority beyond its constitutional limits — including on immigration and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act — but so has Congress, which seems intent on nullifying the authority of an office Republicans have twice lost.
Such extracurricular nonsense serves Washington’s intramural interests but does nothing whatsoever to address the wants and needs of the American people, who want cheap energy and need it delivered safely.
This article was from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.