Why Obama needs to ‘Build Baby Build’ the Keystone XL pipeline

Steele MMO_1368-EditIn a speech before the 2008 Republican National Convention, I unveiled the “Drill Baby Drill” battle cry to reduce our nation’s dependency on foreign sources of oil and to encourage more domestic oil exploration and increase oil refining capacity.

However, since the 2008 election, our nation remains dependent on foreign petroleum sources while the Obama administration continually blocked exploration and drilling which in turn would have helped lower the cost of gasoline.

Once the long-awaited State Department’s final environmental analysis of the $5.4 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline was announced, its positive report increased pressure on President Barack Obama to approve the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The fact that experts say the pipeline would ultimately employ about 20,000 Americans while working to achieve the bipartisan goal of energy independence makes not approving the pipeline a bit problematic for the president when the economy is still growing jobs at an anemic pace.

Release of the report has triggered a 90-day review period so Americans will know within that time frame whether the president is serious about immediate job creation and ultimate energy independence.

Politically, Keystone XL is supported by leading Republicans, Democrats and some of America’s largest labor unions. However, environmental progressives, a core constituency of the Obama political base, are promising acts of “civil disobedience” if the president signs off on the project and, in their eyes, undermine their “green agenda.”

Others, like former President Jimmy Carter have warned President Obama he risks standing on the wrong side of history should he approve the Pipeline. “You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change.”

But for all of the dire predictions and threats of political retribution, it is particularly noteworthy that more Democrat members of Congress, particularly the Senate, are finding their voice in support of the pipeline. As recently as last week, eleven U.S. Senators sent a letter to the President asking approval of the Keystone Pipeline by May 31st.

The letter was written by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and co-signed by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

In it, the Senators pleaded “The time to act is now Mr. President. Please use your executive authority to expedite this process to a swift conclusion and a final decision so that we can all move forward on other energy infrastructure needs in this country. We ask that you bring this entire process to an end no later than May 31, 2014, and that your final decision be the right one, finding that the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.”

But it’s not just Congressional pressure the President faces to build the pipeline. Efforts by the TransCanada Corporation (the developer of XL) to address legitimate concerns about the route of the pipeline or future spills have included a pledge to provide a $100-million performance bond payable to Nebraska if the company failed to clean up a spill in the 20,000-square-mile Sand Hills area that is flush with wildlife. The Calgary-based company even offered to reroute the pipeline away from Sand Hills, which shifted Nebraskan opposition to support.

Furthermore, according to director Jorge Pinon of the Center for International Energy and Environment at the University of Texas at Austin, “The Keystone pipeline gives the United States a huge flexibility. The pipeline is going to allow us to negotiate a much better price,” he notes, with heavy oil producers around the world.

Students of the Obama presidency understand that, since his college days, he has on many occasions displayed an ideologically progressive view of our economy, our nation and the world. For the past six years he has favored the “green energy” of Solyndra-type companies over the exploration and drilling of American oil and gas.

But the test on XL for the president is will his desire for green energy trump the desire of pro-pipeline Democrat House and Senate candidates running in GOP-leaning states this November and the business, independent and labor constituencies that support them?

Interestingly, even many liberal newspaper editorial pages have been critical of the continuing Keystone delays by the administration. The Buffalo News made a particularly salient point: “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper 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.”

Most Americans of all political stripes are environmentally sensitive, yet realize the economic folly of failing to use to our advantage our natural energy resources. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that it is possible to balance energy production that advances economic growth with sound environmental protections that won’t stifle that growth. That is essentially what the State Department concluded in its report.

The president is expected to make his decision sometime this year (likely over the summer) and must decide whether to placate a few vocal environmental groups or to create more jobs; to continue our dependency on unreliable Mideast and Venezuelan oil or to set the nation on a course to true energy independence.

So, when it comes to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, my advice, Mr. President: “Build Baby Build.”

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from The Grio)

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