President Obama “is focused like a laser on putting people back to work,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) assured us last fall – echoing repeated statements by President Obama and Administration officials who “can’t wait” for Congress or others to take action and create jobs.
The jobs thing didn’t last long, however. The President soon vetoed TransCanada’s application for permits to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Approving them “would not be in the national interest,” he declared.
It is hard for most Americans to understand how it is contrary to the national interest to create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs, increase US gross domestic product by an estimated $350 billion, and bring 830,000 barrels of oil per day via pipeline from friend and neighbor Canada to Texas refineries. It’s hard for us to grasp how pipelining Canadian oil is worse than importing oil in much riskier tankers from unstable, unfriendly places like Venezuela and the Middle East – or how it’s better for the global environment to transport Canadian oil by tanker to China, where it will be burned under far less rigorous pollution laws and controls.
It’s equally hard for average citizens to comprehend how more than three years of careful environmental studies are insufficient, especially after the State Department had issued several reports concluding that the pipeline would have only “limited adverse environmental impacts” in areas that are already dotted with oil wells and crisscrossed with oil and gas pipelines.
To suppose, as the President insisted, that Keystone would generate “a lot fewer jobs than would be created by extending the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance” is simply baffling.
In view of White House intransigence, what should Congress and TransCanada do now?
The 1,660-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline would begin in southeastern Alberta, Canada and end in Port Arthur, Texas. Although it would incorporate the existing Keystone Cushing pipeline through Kansas and part of Oklahoma, most of the US portion (from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, and from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur) would be new. Keystone XL would create 20,000 jobs manufacturing and installing 36-inch pipe, valves and other components to build that addition.
Environmentalists predictably went ballistic. Surface mining Alberta’s oil sands damages lands and habitats, they railed. Never mind that this technique is being replaced by in situ “steam-assisted gravity drain” processes, that mined lands are being restored to forest and grass habitats, or that blocking Keystone XL will neither end oil extraction nor prevent crude or refined product shipments to China.
Mining, processing and using this oil will increase greenhouse gas levels and global warming, activists vented. Never mind that total “greenhouse gas” emissions would amount to an almost undetectable portion of annual global GHG emissions. That “dangerous manmade global warming” is an exaggerated scare that has little basis in truly peer-reviewed science. Or that there has been no warming for a decade, UN IPCC “science” is crumbling at its foundation, and increasing numbers of climate experts are publicly dissenting from IPCC orthodoxy.
Mr. Obama needs environmentalists in his camp, if he expects to be reelected. Radical greens have made Keystone XL the latest symbol of their intense hatred of anything hydrocarbon – and a centerpiece for fundraising. Like the President, they are intent on ending our “addiction to oil” and “fundamentally transforming” the energy, economic and social fabric of America.
Jobs, GDP, tax revenues and national security will therefore have to take a backseat.
As he suggested in his State of the Union speech, President Obama seems willing to generate expensive electricity for three million homes by blanketing a million acres of public lands with taxpayer-subsidized, bird-killing wind turbines, habitat-smothering solar panels, high-voltage transmission lines, and gas-fired backup units. Anti-Keystone “environmentalists” seem to have few objections to such “eco-friendly” energy. But for them a pipeline is intolerable.
Faced with these facts, TransCanada could do as Mr. Obama suggested – and reapply for permits, after the fall elections and after changing its intended pipeline route to avoid allegedly sensitive areas. In the meantime, it could continue trying to win friends and influence people.
Yes, it could. But doing so has significant pitfalls.
It would drag the process out, leave the company in the “kill zone” of media and environmentalist attacks, in a political no man’s land, amid deadly crossfire from savvy and well-funded activists, journalists and bureaucrats. It would also set the stage for anti-pipeline lawsuits in courts of their choosing – perhaps in “friendly” lawsuits between “green” plaintiffs and EPA or State – when and if permits finally are granted.
A further drawback is that focusing on the State Department and White House ignores the Interior Department, Fish & Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency and many other federal and state regulatory and judicial agencies and processes that will still stand in the way of final project approval, and will likely take years to navigate.
There is a better way.
TransCanada could and should work closely and cooperatively with farmers and farm bureaus, state governors, agencies and legislators, mayors and other affected parties, to address concerns and compensate landowners for the use of their property, unavoidable impacts and damages in the unlikely event of an accident. The company should emphasize that Keystone XL will create thousands of jobs; generate billions of dollars in private, local, state and national revenue; use the best and safest pipeline technology; and bring oil from a friendly country to American refineries, motorists, farmers and manufacturers.
TransCanada should also take legal action, in state and/or federal courts of its choosing, over causes of action of its choosing. The company’s permit application has been rejected – for specious environmental and overtly political reasons. The Administration’s decision is clearly “ripe” for litigation.
The company may be reluctant to sue. Litigation over such matters is not as common in Canada as in the lawsuit-happy USA; the judicial territory may be unfamiliar; and the outcome is not certain.
However, in the United States environmentalists often win in the courts of media and public opinion, especially in an election year, especially with hundred-million-dollar anti-oil campaigns, laden with emotional rhetoric.
On the other hand, companies frequently win in US courts of law, where they are able to compile complete judicial records with solid scientific facts supporting their projects – something that is virtually impossible to do in a sound-bite-driven (and often biased) news media. The factually bankrupt rhetoric of environmentalist campaigns is no match for sound science, when claims and arguments are scrutinized at the trial and appellate level. Faced with defeat, the green wolf packs often go off in search of easier prey.
The anti-pipeline, anti-oil sands groups will not disappear. They will most assuredly sue TransCanada and multiple government agencies if permits are ultimately issued. They will also do all they can to shut down any Pacific Gateway pipeline, any exports to Asia, and ultimately all oil sands operations.
This better way forward has strong probabilities for success. It is clearly in the national interest of both Canada and the United States that it be taken, and that it succeed.