| August 2, 2012

Those pipes are still empty

In March, we called on President Obama to use his trip to Oklahoma as an opportunity to listen to energy experts in the state and develop a national energy policy that makes sense for all Americans. Unfortunately, that meaningful exchange did not take place, and the president’s Oklahoma visit appeared to be more style than substance. Standing in front of a stack of empty pipe, Obama directed his administration and agencies “to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority ... and get it done.” Because of delays from federal bureaucrats in the Obama administration -- the same delays he said he would cut, break and prioritize away -- that stack of pipe he used as a backdrop near Cushing is just as empty as the promises he made that day.

President Obama’s campaign is currently focused on empowering the middle class through job creation and investing in American energy. However, if President Obama intends to stay true to his campaign message, fully embracing the Keystone XL Pipeline must become a top priority. The pipeline goes a long way in accomplishing two key objectives – job creation and energy independence.

President Obama initially rejected the Keystone XL pipeline application to build across the Canadian border, but seemed to embrace the southern portion that directly impacts Oklahoma when he visited the state in March. On Friday, TransCanada received approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to go ahead with the 485-mile southern portion of the pipeline. This would greatly facilitate the flow of oil from North Dakota and Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, turning Cushing into the oil crossroads of the pipeline. In February, we expressed there was still hope that this round could be conducted properly and not politically, but a renewed round of delays could jeopardize that hope.

Environmental groups on the left are attempting to thwart this latest progress by employing the very red tape and bureaucratic hurdles Obama said he would fight. These groups, which include Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, have appealed to the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to overrule the Army Corps of Engineers’ approved permits. The Clean Water Act has been invoked because the approved pipeline crosses “aquatic features,” a stretch of their authority in our opinion, but unclear footing by their own definition. The Clean Water Act gives the EPA the power to veto anything approved by the Army Corps of Engineers if the project impairs important waterways. The EPA has used this power a total of 13 times, and it will be important to see if they do it again.

If the Cushing portion avoids any further entanglement with the EPA, then the next phase for approval would center on the Nebraska portion of the project. The Nebraska section would increase capacity to Cushing, enhancing the overall benefits of Keystone XL. This portion of the pipeline has already undergone extreme scrutiny from the State Department, which concluded that the pipeline would cause minimal environmental impact if it was operated according to regulations.

Despite that approval, the northern portion of the pipeline still faces red tape and bureaucratic hurdles. The State Department has opened an official comment docket on some final routing changes in Nebraska. In a Fox News article, Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, had some harsh criticism for the Administration when it comes to the further review:

Normally, a presidential permit approval is automatic after successful State Department review. But not for Obama; he wanted to wait until after the election because he didn’t want to choose between the environmental extremists and the union workers who want the jobs building the pipeline.

According to Kerpen, the comment docket allows leftist environmental groups to flood the State Department with pleas urging the review process to start from scratch. These delays jeopardize the entire project by “letting Obama quietly study the pipeline to death.”

If those claims are true, the validity of the message Obama gave in Cushing is seriously called into question, as well as his campaign pledge to the middle class. The Keystone XL pipeline is a “shovel-ready project” that would create thousands of jobs and help enhance American energy independence. TransCanada is not asking for government finances to complete their project, and multiple reviews show that it would have minimal environmental impacts. In fact, failure of the pipeline would have even worse environmental consequences because the oil would likely end up in inefficient and dirty refineries in China, instead of the world’s most efficient refineries along the Gulf Coast. Overall, the pipeline would benefit the middle class by creating jobs and more efficient energy.

So if this is really about job creation, energy independence and strengthening our nation, why are those pipes still empty, Mr. President?

By Brian Bush and James Hall

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