Liberals opposed to drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during President George W. Bush's administration often argued that it would be decades before consumers would see the result, so why rush? It was an effective tactic. That's the environmental movement's default strategy - stall, stall, stall in the hope that opponents will tire and eventually go away.
Now does President Obama's four-year stall on the Keystone XL pipeline make sense? By some accounts, he was prepared in 2011 to sign off on the project to create a $7 billion, privately-funded pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. But then Big Green giants like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Fund made opposition to Keystone a litmus test for environmental purity in the 2012 campaign. Bowing to the resulting pressure, Obama formally delayed the project in February 2012. His spinners were careful to say he wasn't killing it, he was just waiting for more data. He's been waiting ever since.
In July, Obama was waiting on a final report from the State Department, which was charged with assessing the project because it crossed an international border. If the striped-pants analysts said the project wouldn't "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution, it appeared Obama would approve it. Such comments seem calculated to give hope to the pipeline's backers in Big Business and Big Labor, who saw thousands of jobs being created. Rumors continually floated through Washington that Obama was leaning towards approving it.
But something always happened: On Friday, the State Department's inspector general said he wants to investigate whether a firm that consulted on the project had a conflict of interest because it had also done business with a - shock! - pipeline company. Now, it's no decision till until January.
While these interminable delays have been going on, pretty much every argument against the pipeline has fallen away. It was rerouted to take it away from the Nebraska aquifers that sparked the initial concerns. A steady stream of reports by private groups like IHS global Insight and the National Research Council have found it won't pollute.
The State Department agreed with this conclusion in a March report and even predicted Keystone would create more than 42,000 jobs during its construction - a real boost to a still-faltering economy. But Obama has dismissed the research produced by his own administration. In July, he told the New York Times that Keystone would create just 2,000 temporary jobs and only 50 permanent positions. Even Politifact had to concede, grudgingly, that Obama misrepresented the facts.
The time is long past for business groups, union leaders and the American public to demand that Obama stop shirking his responsibility. He has all of the information he'll ever need. He should make a decision and live with the consequences. Otherwise, sooner or later, Canada will stop waiting and instead sell its oil to China, whose unrestrained smokestacks will do far more environmental damage than U.S. manufacturers could ever manage. Somehow, that doesn't seem like a wise environmental protection strategy. It would, however, hobble the world's most productive economy.