Commentary: Pass the Pipe(line)

Obama turns his back on new jobs the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline would create.

Posted: 02/17/2012 12:27 PM EST

Democrats and President Obama have been doing something close to back flips since the Department of Labor released figures showing unemployment declining to its lowest level in years. In January, over 240,000 jobs were added to the economy, bringing the unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent — and, just last week, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits dropped another 13,000 to a four-year low.

All of this is good news, but the administration missed an opportunity to make it even better news.

By refusing to approve the 1,700-mile TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from western Canada and across six states to Texas refineries, the president turned his back on a $7 billion project that would immediately employ 20,000 Americans as well as help achieve the energy independence in our gas-driven society he once claimed was his goal.

Politically, the president faced a Solomon-like decision: Appease his labor union base that wants the jobs (and thereby silence GOP criticism), agree with environmentalist supporters, who claim the pipeline could leak and contaminate groundwater and hurt wildlife, or do what the American people wanted. With polls showing 78 percent of Americans believing the pipeline would “create a significant amount of jobs,” you’d think this would be a no-brainer.

Ahh, but nothing trumps the smart thing to do quicker than the political thing to do.

Opposition centered on the pipeline’s right-of-way through Nebraska, where ranchers and political leaders, including Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, worried about a spill.

But the TransCanada Corp. had pledged last October to provide a $100 million performance bond payable to the state of Nebraska if the company failed to clean up any spills occurring in the 20,000-square-mile Sand Hills area that is flush with wildlife. The Calgary-based company even offered to re-route the pipeline away from Sand Hills, which moved opponents in Nebraska to support the pipeline, thereby allowing the final project studies to be completed in time for a final decision in 2011.

And yet President Obama decided to go “green,” thus angering union workers and killing the project. Why?

Anyone who has come to study the Obama presidency understands that the president has, on many occasions, favored the “green energy” of Solyndra-type companies over the exploration and drilling of American oil and gas. In my view, the president is simply unwilling or unable to appreciate the long-term benefits of this pipeline.

Interestingly, a significant number of Democrats in Congress joined with Republicans to support the pipeline. Furthermore, many liberal newspaper editorial pages delivered a rare rebuke to the president on his decision. The Buffalo News made a particularly salient point when it noted that “the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had made public statements that Canada will now seek to ‘diversify’ its portfolio, which some take to mean selling to China. It’s hard to believe that Obama would want to deliver Canada into the hands of the Chinese, over American profits and jobs. But his logic is questionable on this one, at best.”

In a January 15 editorial, The Wall Street Journal, in commenting on the Canadian plan to allow private companies to construct a $5.4 billion pipeline to carry oil from Alberta to ports in British Columbia, put the Keystone XL pipeline in perspective this way: “Canadians are at least as environmentally sensitive as Americans, but they realize the economic folly in failing to exploit their natural energy resources. They also realize it’s possible to balance energy production for economic growth with environmental protections.”

With gas prices at the pump quickly approaching $4 a gallon, here we sit — again (remember the administration’s decision to shut down drilling after the Gulf oil spill?). The XL pipeline decision thwarts more job creation, continues our dependency on unreliable Mideast and Venezuelan oil and damages relations with Canada. It is a cynical political miscalculation that has positioned Congressional Republicans to force the president’s hand on the pipeline, as they have recently passed a plan “to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline and expand drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

That’s a start. But then again, I’m the same guy who said “Drill Baby Drill.”

Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for BET.com each week.

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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