Gazette opinion: Another frustrating delay on Keystone XL

2014-05-01T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Another frustrating delay on Keystone XL The Billings Gazette
May 01, 2014 12:00 am

President Obama did no favors for Montana Democrats when he again delayed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Gov. Steve Bullock, Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh, all Democrats, protested the delay and repeated their calls to build the oil pipeline from Canada. Republican Rep. Steve Daines also criticized the delay.

Montanans have a greater stake in the project because it will increase the tax base in several Eastern Montana counties, and provide an on-ramp to carry about 10 percent of current Bakken production to market. Presently, the increased Bakken production is being transported by truck and rail.

The Keystone XL is not the catastrophe its staunch opponents claim, nor are its benefits as great as its proponents claim. This pipeline will create thousands of temporary construction jobs, but only a small number of pipeline jobs will be permanent. It will bring more oil from a friendly neighbor to U.S. refineries, reducing America’s dependence on oil from unfriendly parts of the world.

The pipeline won’t significantly increase carbon in the atmosphere, according to a State Department environmental impact statement issued earlier this year. The Canadian tar sands crude is going to market one way or another. If not via the Keystone XL, it will travel by truck or rail, across the United States or Canada.

The Calgary Herald reported last week that Canadian oil companies still support the Keystone XL, but are hedging their bets by committing to ship their crude on multiple proposed pipelines and to move it by rail.

Nebraska appeal

A group of Nebraska landowners won a victory in February when a state judge voided a law giving the governor authority to approve the pipeline. The judge found that the state Public Service Commission was the proper entity to issue a permit. The case was appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which is expected to take it up in September or October.

So even if Obama approved the federal permit, the Nebraska court case may hold up the pipeline.

National interest

That should not delay the president from doing his duty. The federal permitting process is supposed to determine whether the permit is in the national interest. The State Department research clearly supports a finding of being in the national interest.

The president ought to approve the pipeline and allow Nebraskans to determine what their state law requires. If their high court upholds the lower court ruling, TransCanada would have to make its case to the state Public Service Commission, just as it did in Montana.

A big part of the government dysfunction that frustrates Montanans is inaction. Congress takes too long to make decisions and argues without end. The Keystone XL is an example of the executive failing to act and causing the same arguments to be replayed indefinitely.

Obama should approve the Keystone XL — with the safety and environmental protection provisions recommended through years of State Department review. The president should approve the international pipeline permit now and let Nebraska sort out who is responsible for state approval.

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