BY KYLE SMITH
Published March 11, 2012
Recently, campaign politics have unfortunately seemed to take priority over job creation for President Barack Obama. The president announced just several weeks ago that he would not allow the construction of the Keystone Pipeline Project, a transnational oil pipeline that would have created more than 20,000 jobs and reduced our reliance on oil from politically unstable nations. Even after several local and state officials approved the project and lobbied hard on its behalf, the president refused because he didn’t want to anger the special interest environmental groups that support him.
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The Keystone XL Pipeline is a venture by the energy company TransCanada to create a 1,700-mile pipeline connecting an oil rich region of Alberta, Canada to U.S. refineries in Texas. This project is a hands-down win-win, both creating badly needed construction jobs throughout the Great Plains and providing the United States with a greater percentage of oil from our northern neighbor. In terms of job creation, this project is the definition of “shovel-ready,” with 20,000 jobs created almost immediately after the president signs the approval papers.
Upon completion of the project, analysts have speculated that 700,000 new barrels of oil per day would flow into the United States from Canada instead of being shipped by tanker from the Middle East or Venezuela. In the long term, BusinessWeek estimated that the pipeline would have created an additional 500,000 U.S. jobs by 2035. However, because the president has denied construction permits, those jobs will now likely end up in Asia, as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now looking to China as a customer for this energy.
Obama initially delayed making a decision on the Keystone Project until 2013, asking for another environmental review that would conveniently conclude right after the presidential elections. The Obama administration has a history of delaying important policy until 2013. Both the execution of Obamacare and the raising of the debt ceiling are other important issues that the president had attempted to punt past November in order to escape the political consequences of poor policy. This time, the president decided to play campaign politics again, costing America 20,000 jobs, claiming the environmental consequences were too great.
Obama’s denial is confusing and unexpected mainly because a three-year environmental review has already taken place, and the project was given the go ahead. The only thing that was delaying construction was the fact that because the pipeline is transnational, the State Department has to approve it, giving Obama the ability to sign the approval. The concern that the president originally cited after the first environmental review was the impact on an aquifer in Nebraska, which the pipeline was planned to run through. Soon after the initial delay, TransCanada offered to move the pipeline around the aquifer, incurring significant additional costs, but the president still refused to act.
The Keystone Pipeline pits two important sectors of Obama’s base, labor unions and environmental groups, against each other, leading to a delicate political situation. Instead of making the tough decisions, working through the issue, and taking a small political hit for the guaranteed creation of 20,000 jobs, the president tried to stall the decision for more than a year, beyond the presidential election. His lack of action is keeping thousands of union workers waiting at the shovel. It’s ironic that Obama has shot down this issue because he claims that job creation is the centerpiece of his campaign.
In contrast to the president’s pro-job rhetoric, however, he has repeatedly used overblown environmental concerns to stall energy endeavors all over the country. The American people don’t want to wait until it is politically convenient for the president to make these simple choices. The American people want jobs now, but the president decided interest groups and lobbyists are more important than the American worker, at least until 2013. Additionally, in a time when our nation is struggling to find energy security, with hostile countries in the Middle East and Latin America threatening to obstruct our oil supply, why won’t the president look to our friendly northern neighbor for a safe, reliable source of energy instead?
After the initial delay of the project, Congressional Republicans included a provision into the payroll tax extension passed last year that forced the president to either approve or deny the project in two months time. House Republicans, and Speaker of the House John Boehner in particular, took a major political defeat on the payroll tax extension to force the president’s action on the Keystone Pipeline, taking the leadership necessary to create jobs.