It probably was too much to expect President Barack Obama, who’s effectively stalled for five years on whether to approve or reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, would act quickly after the review he was reportedly waiting for came in.
That was the State Department review, several years in the making. And in concluding that the pipeline would not likely have much impact on greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, it basically echoed the views of many energy experts as well as previous investigations. More important, it gave the president ample reason to approve construction of the pipeline. The pipeline in question would run from the Canadian-U.S. border to Steele City, Neb. The southern leg already exists.
Environmentalists were disappointed with the State Department report, though they should not have been surprised. They’re convinced that this pipeline would exacerbate climate change in part because Alberta’s tar sands, from which oil would be shipped through the pipeline, are expected to produce considerably more greenhouse gas emissions than regular oil. They’re also concerned that leaks from the pipeline would create localized environmental disasters.
Trouble is, the State Department concluded that not building this pipeline would have little effect either on tar sands production or climate change.
Canada, which would almost certainly be less hospitable to U.S. concerns for years to come if this pipeline is rejected, would simply ship its oil in other ways. Almost 200,000 barrels of Canadian crude already are shipped daily.
As the State Department acknowledged, moving oil by rail holds greater risks for the environment than moving it by pipeline, both because of the amount of diesel fuel trucks and trains would burn and because of the higher incidence of accidents. A horrific derailment and explosion in a small town in Quebec last year killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town.
The Washington Post for some time has argued that environmentalists would be wiser to focus their attention on other climate policies where they can do more good. We tend to agree.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether President Obama also agrees, whether he will postpone his decision indefinitely or reject the pipeline for reasons known only to him. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department and other agencies still “need to look at this and make their determinations.”
Surely they’ve already done that. Mr. McDonough might have had more credibility if he had not also said that President Obama “has been very clear he’s going to insulate the process from politics.”
The president’s done an abysmal job of it.