The Keystone Kops, fictional incompetent policemen featured in silent film in the early 20th century, are back in less comedic and all too real form with a new mission to block development of the Keystone XL pipeline and trip up efforts to obtain the requisite government approvals that will enable the United States to enhance its energy independence.
Today’s Keystone Kops, a self-appointed collection of environmental and land use groups, hope that repeated reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Mineral Leasing Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act of 1899 can be made to resemble a slapstick comedy in which nothing ultimately gets done, which for them would spell victory.
After nearly five years of regulatory wrestling over the development of the transcontinental pipeline, the case to move forward with Keystone XL is too compelling to warrant further delay.
First, the pipeline will have tremendous economic benefits, representing billions of dollars of potential investment and thousands of skilled jobs in the United States. The State Department estimates the Keystone XL project will create 20,000 jobs directly and 10 times more indirectly. Not surprisingly, many of America’s trade unions strongly support the pipeline project. Further, increased petroleum supply will help us at the pump where most Americans feel that we already are paying too much.
Second, from a national security perspective, we now have the potential to reduce our reliance on energy imports from countries in the OPEC cartel by securing access to petroleum from our most northern neighbor. Once the pipeline is complete, the U.S. would immediately become less vulnerable to political and security-related disruptions of our energy supply. We would boost energy security, while simultaneously decreasing our dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela. The XL pipeline, projected to carry both Canadian oil sands crude and Bakken shale crude from North Dakota to our refineries on the Gulf Coast, offers a conduit between responsible, secure suppliers and willing customers, all within North America.
Third, the U.S. State Department has twice conducted environmental-impact assessments and concluded that development of the pipeline would result in “no substantive change in global GHG emissions.” The Nebraska state government reached a similar conclusion when it reviewed the latest proposed pipeline route through the state. In fact, the planned pipeline is both safer and cleaner than the probable alternatives, which include rail shipment to a fleet of tankers in Northwest waters. Those modes of transportation also burn diesel and, unlike pipelines, would have the effect of increasing our carbon footprint.
Ironically, the Keystone Kops’ efforts, if successful, would divert Canadian oil to Asia for use by China and other countries doing vastly less to address climate change and auto emissions than the United States, which boasts some of the cleanest refineries anywhere in the world. Moreover, of the top five suppliers of oil to the United States, only Canada has greenhouse gas regulations in place.
Why would the United States impose higher economic costs at home while enhancing the fortunes of our economic rivals? If the oil does not flow south of the Canadian border, it will likely flow west to China. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said as much, calling U.S. approval of the Keystone XL a “no brainer” and contending that the decision to delay the pipeline “highlights why Canada must increase its efforts to ensure it can supply its energy outside the U.S. and into Asia in particular.”
Not one to miss an opportunity, Chinese President Hu Jintao recently visited with the Canadian prime minister and, recognizing its economic and geostrategic importance, Chinese state-owned oil companies are chomping at the bit to secure permanent access to North American energy sources. Despite all of this as well as an executive order governing Keystone-related activity intended to “accelerate” cross-border energy projects, the Keystone Kops remain determined to do all they can to block approval of the pipeline.
The State Department and the Obama administration are expected to issue a final decision on the future of the Keystone XL pipeline following expiration of the comment period for the draft supplemental environmental-impact statement. After years of obfuscation, obstruction and delay, it is time for the curtain to fall on the Keystone Kops and for the United States to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline consistent with our economic, national security and environmental interests.
J.C. Boggs is a partner with the government advocacy and public policy group of King & Spalding LLP in Washington, D.C.