Politics Over Reason: The Rejection of Keystone XL

Politics Over Reason: The Rejection of Keystone XL

Creating jobs and building a stronger economy—that was the Obama Administration’s rationale last month for expediting an environmental review for the proposed Northeast Corridor high-speed rail between Boston, New York, and Washington.

This project is part of the administration’s effort, announced last year, to streamline environmental reviews of certain projects.

On the other hand, citing the need for more environmental assessment, the Administration rejected a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would directly link Canada— with the largest oil reserves outside of Saudi Arabia—to the Gulf Coast region, home to about half of U.S. oil refining capacity. 

For all the talk about job creation, the Keystone extension would have created more of the “shovel ready” variety in America’s heartland, where the need is most critical. It would have been, by far, a much bigger contributor to the economy than the Northeast Corridor rail.

So why the conflicting decisions? Politics. Mass transit is popular with environmentalists; oil pipelines are not. Nor, especially, is oil from the Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands, misnamed by environmental groups as “dirty oil.” The President’s decision was clearly an election year nod to the environmental lobby, which hailed the move.

For now, the press is focused on whether it was a good move politically. Pundits, as always, are debating the obvious: the decision splits Obama’s base between union construction workers and environmentalists; gives the Republicans an economy and jobs issue to run on; and is seemingly contrary to the Obama agenda of ending dependence on Middle East oil.

What has gone largely uncommented on, however, is the actual State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement itself. A careful read shows that it provides the same rationale for the pipeline as the environmental lobby provides for mass transit. Alternatives to the pipeline, such as trucking the oil from Canada to the Gulf, would “result in substantially higher greenhouse gas emissions.” It notes that existing rail transportation routes would include “higher energy use and greenhouse emissions, greater noise impacts, and greater direct and indirect effects on many more communities than the proposed” pipeline.

What this exposes is the double standard of the environmental lobby and the Administration who all too willing to ignore their own standards and objectives when it comes to the oil industry.


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