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Obama Playing Politics With Keystone Pipeline

April 20, 2014

President Obama is holding off approving construction of the vital Keystone XL pipeline not for environmental concerns but for political reasons — his fear of alienating one of his core constituencies, environmentalists, charges online magazine The American.

The pipeline would facilitate delivery of up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to refineries in the United States. The State Department concluded in 2011 that Keystone poses "no significant impacts" on the environment, and reiterated that finding earlier this year.

Yet the administration insists that the pipeline will be approved only if "it does not significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution.

"President Obama refuses simply to get out of the way of what should be the routine construction of energy infrastructure — why?" asks The American, the journal of the American Enterprise Institute.

Is protecting America from "dirty oil" from Canada the reason? Oil from Canada's oil-sands fields is already flowing into the United States by pipeline from Alberta to Oklahoma. The Keystone would simply extend the pipeline to the Gulf Coast and add another leg from Alberta to Nebraska.

Safety concerns? A recent study by the Fraser Institute disclosed that the transport of oil and gas is safer by pipeline than by rail or roadway.

Economic concerns? The State Department predicted that pipeline construction would produce about 42,100 jobs throughout America and boost local property tax revenue in many places.

Obama's opposition to Keystone isn't based on popularity, either. Pew polling reveals that 65 percent of Americans support extension of the pipeline and just 30 percent oppose it.

"That 30 percent, of course, includes the hard core of the environmental movement, and that may be the key to understanding the president's opposition," states The American article written by Kenneth P. Green, senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute, and Alan W. Dowd, a senior fellow there.

"Rather than building broad political support around unifying themes, Obama has generally advanced his agenda by cobbling together short-term coalitions comprised of micro-issue blocs. One of those blocs is the environmental movement," they write.

"Keeping Keystone in limbo keeps them happy, and the president — and his allies in Congress — probably reckon that they gain more from the environmentalists' deep and lasting support than from a temporary spike in the national polls."

Obama in general opposes the hydrocarbon economy. But the fact is, oil is the fuel of "both the present and the foreseeable future," The American asserts.

Petroleum is the primary source of energy for the entire country, accounting for 36 percent, followed by natural gas at 26 percent, and coal at 18 percent. Renewables account for just 9 percent.

What's more, North America now has access to huge supplies of oil and gas thanks to new fracking and horizontal drilling techniques, and the United States could have sufficient supplies to allow the export of oil and gas.

But pressure from the environmentalists can also be blamed in part for preventing America from becoming an energy exporter.

The 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, passed after the 1973-74 oil embargo crisis, bans most exports of U.S. crude oil.

Exporting natural gas is legal, but the Department of Energy has been slow in approving the terminals needed for liquefying the gas so it can be shipped overseas.

"Energy companies have been urging Congress to lift the lid on exports and start treating oil and gas again like any other commodity that's freely traded in world markets," The Daily Beast pointed out.

The strongest opposition to oil and gas exports has come from a coalition of environmental activists, who wrote an open letter to President Obama claiming that natural gas exports would make it "almost impossible" for the world to avoid "catastrophic climate change," adding that the nation's fossil fuel reserves should stay "in the ground."

The Daily Beast concluded: "What makes no sense is to let the dead hand of 40-year-old energy policies constrain America's freedom of action today."