Policy: Environment & Energy

It's time to approve Keystone XL

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Keystone XL,Energy and Environment,Manhattan Moment

President Obama has three new reasons to approve the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil per day from Alberta to U.S. refineries, which would lead to economic growth and job creation in the United States.

Escalating Conflict in Iraq. Though the fighting is yet to affect oil production in southern Iraq, uncertainty over how much havoc ISIS will create is driving up futures prices. Disruption in Iraq's production would substantially affect its heavy crude oil exports, the type of oil found in Canadian tar sands. If unrest continues in the region, Canadian oil could help replace lost supply with reliable, stable production.

Approval of Canadian Pipeline. The Canadian federal government just approved its Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would send Canadian oil west for export to Asian markets. If the United States does not act quickly, Canadian oil will follow other paths to market. Northern Gateway is not the preferred route, as the pipeline would transport fewer barrels of oil than Keystone XL in a less efficient way (it would cross rugged terrain and still need to be shipped to China for refining). The route still faces an uphill battle for approval from the British Columbia government and Canada's Aboriginal First Nations, and may not be built for some time. Still, the Canadian government's pro-growth energy policy stands in stark contrast to that of the United States, which is characterized by inconsistencies and lack of certainty.

Senate Committee Moves Bill. Led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed a bill that would bypass the State Department and approve Keystone XL. Landrieu is facing a tough re-election battle and the vast majority of Louisiana residents support construction of the pipeline. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is opposed to Keystone XL, but he may decide to bring the bill to the Senate floor in an attempt to keep his majority after the midterm elections.

The Keystone XL debate highlights a major split in the Democratic Party between environmentalists and labor unions. Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America, wrote in the Washington Post, "Despite efforts by an environmental fringe to hijack the mantle of progressivism or attempts by the far right to make Keystone a wedge issue, energy development is not a right-wing or a left-wing issue. It is critical to our country and to all of us." Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, has also voiced his support for the project.

The first application for the Keystone XL pipeline was submitted to the State Department by TransCanada Corporation five years and nine months ago. In that time, the entire pipeline could have been built three separate times. Those who do not support developing fossil fuels could have watched the anti-fracking documentary "Gasland" 30,000 times. Despite the State Department findings that Keystone XL would have no significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions and would save 28 lives per year over rail transport, Obama continues to postpone making a decision on the economically beneficial pipeline.

Obama's delay is no longer defensible for economic, environmental, safety, or political reasons. Canadian oil will reach market one way or another. Keystone XL would be the most economically beneficial path, especially for the American economy. As my Manhattan Institute colleague Diana Furchtgott-Roth argues in MarketWatch, “Oil has a global price, but refining jobs are local.”

Mr. President, do the right thing and approve the Keystone XL.

Jared Meyer is a policy analyst at Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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