Obama's Keystone pipeline blunder

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone

How misguided was Barack Obama’s decision to refuse to approve the Keystone XL pipeline?

How misguided was Custer’s decision to ride into Little Big Horn?

Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that Americans favor building the Keystone XL pipeline by a 60%-24% margin. The fact that only 16% are unsure represents a very high level of knowledge about a project that was largely unknown except to readers of the oil and gas trade press a few months ago. And why shouldn’t Americans favor a pipeline that allows us to import oil from friendly nearby Canada rather than from unfriendly Venezuela or distant and dicey Saudi Arabia?

Most Americans seem to understand that the arguments from the environmental groups against the pipeline are laughably weak. The enviros don’t like the way Canadians extract oil from tar sands. But Canadians are going to extract oil that way whether we allow the pipeline to be built or not; if we don’t they’ll sell the oil to China.

The environs say that the pipeline poses a terrible risk to the Ogallala aquifer in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. But pipelines are the safest way to ship oil, which is something we have to do, and Americans have been building pipelines since the nineteenth century. There are pipelines all over the place in heavily populated parts of the country (see this map) and somehow we manage to survive. The idea that the Keystone XL pipeline poses some unique and terrible danger is obviously nonsense.

The Republicans are smart to keep raising the pipeline issue, which is all gain for them and all pain for Obama. I wrote earlier this year that approving the pipeline was a “no-brainer” for Obama. I was wrong about that, but his refusal to approve it I think is pretty clearly an unforced error, an own goal (as the Brits would say), a self-inflicted wound. It may not prove as politically fatal as Custer's decision proved literally fatal, but it sure doesn't help his campaign. Perhaps only someone who has chosen to live in university neighborhoods all his adult life could have so overestimated the appeal of environmental restriction groups' arguments and failed to understand the common sense of the great majority of ordinary Americans.

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