XL Pipeline: Voting "Present"

When the brief history of the Obama administration is written – perhaps as part of a Zakharia “Decline of America” sequel  – there will be chapters on corruption (Solyndra; Siga’s small pox boondoggle; Congressional insider trading), flailing (stimulus plan), and incompetence (Fast and Furious; “leading from behind”; true Wall Street reform), but the essence of his administration will be captured in the mismanagement of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Consider:

– The 1700 mile pipeline to bring almost 1 million barrels of oil a day from northern Alberta to the refineries of the Gulf Coast has been in development since 2008. In August the EPA’s second evaluation determined that it would have “no significant impact” on the environment if agreed procedures were followed.

– We have some 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines and 168,000 miles of oil pipelines criss crossing the nation. We couldn’t fill up a car’s tank or heat a house without them. We know how to do this. The science is clear that there is no real risk, but it is easy to rile up NIMBY sentiment and who can trust science anyway?  (Oh excuse me, it is the conservatives who are anti-science.) Whatever, the pipeline owner has agreed to reroute the pipeline around the Ogallala aquifer – no matter, no decision will be made until after the election and the 10,000 jobs can wait another year.

–  The NYT argument that we don’t need the oil anyway ignores the fact that we import 10 million barrels a day by tanker from places like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. When we consider sanctions on Iran, they consider blockading the Persian Gulf.

–  The real objective of the environmentalists? This is a crude way to attack the Alberta tar sands operations which use a significant amount of water and leave pools which cannot be fully remediated. As good citizens of Al Gore’s planet, we cannot be bound by national borders and defer to the crass commercialism of the Canadians.

–  And here’s where environmentalist self-satisfaction loses to economic reality – there will be a pipeline to British Columbia to feed tankers bound for China, we will have damaged our Canadian relationship, we will import our 10 million barrels a day from despots, and the Chinese won’t really much care about the scenery in Alberta.

For those who wonder whether the Al Gore crowd understands the economic trade-offs, a look at California is instructive. Californians (by ballot initiative as well as legislation) choose high electric rates over nuclear power, no risk of off-shore drilling over state revenues and lower gasoline costs, protection of fish over water for farmers and cities, and claim to the world’s tightest air emission controls and high taxes at the expense of a bottom ranking for business friendliness. In each case there is debate about the numbers, but California’s choice is clear. To the true believers the problem is that we have too many people. And as for the pipeline – we use too much oil.

And for the 2012 election, this is vintage Obama. He is caught between a core constituency on the Left and a crystal clear chance to create good jobs, lower energy costs, and support the relationship with our closest ally. And he does what has worked for him for his entire career – he votes “Present”. Just maybe the American people are not as stupid as his Illinois constituents – at least not the second time around.