It appears increasingly clear that the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline project is being studied to death as President Obama dithers over whether to approve it. The massive project to move Canadian oil to American refineries should already be under construction, but the president can't decide whether to pander to Big Green environmentalists who rabidly oppose it or to the trade unions who want to build it and benefit from the thousands of jobs that it would create. So he keeps moving the goal posts, from one study to the next, desperate to avoid responsibility for the final decision.
The latest study, released Jan. 31 by the State Department, found that the pipeline would not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, confirming the results of a draft version that was released in March 2013. That conclusion should put to rest Obama's professed concern that the pipeline would add to the problem of greenhouse gases. Other studies have concluded that not approving Keystone XL could do more environmental damage because Canada will sell its oil to China. The Asian giant's environmental standards fall far short of America's.
But now Obama wants to wait for Secretary of State John Kerry's official recommendation on whether building the pipeline is in the national interest. Of course, this will require yet another study, which could delay approval for construction until after the midterm Congressional elections in November and thus relieve Obama of the burden of offending one key Democratic interest group or another.
How convenient. State has been studying Keystone XL for more than five years, and will continue to study it while Obama dithers for purely political reasons. And while the president is paralyzed by fear of a Big Green backlash against congressional Democrats, other voices are stepping up to offer the leadership he won't.
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday he thinks the pipeline should be built. Salazar, a former Colorado Democratic senator who served in Obama's Cabinet, said America would benefit from Keystone XL. There's also growing support in Congress to force Obama's hand, backed by polls showing most Americans want the pipeline to be built.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who is expected to become chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee later this month, said Tuesday she is "open to whatever needs to be done" to approve the pipeline, including using it as a bargaining chip with Republicans in upcoming talks over raising the federal debt limit.
Obama has insisted that Congress send him a "clean" debt limit bill without strings attached. But a lot of lawmakers want to pick a fight over a project that holds a great deal of potential for helping to relieve American dependence on oil from overseas crisis zones such as the Middle East. One way to avoid that fight is for Obama to make the right choice: Stop dithering and approve the pipeline.