If the President wants bipartisanship, start with Keystone pipelineBy Andrew Parks | 01/27/2015 10:52pm
During his State of the Union address last week, President Obama made the following remark referencing the Keystone XL Pipeline: “21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.” Mr. President, there’s something else Republicans and Democrats agree on: that same pipeline you expertly navigated your way out of discussing.
Keystone XL has been a political controversy since 2011 for a number of reasons. Originally, Democrats opposed the Keystone project for its potential to disturb the ecosystem in the Nebraska Sandhills. TransCanada, the company that proposed Keystone, responded by altering the pipeline’s path so it would no longer run through the Sandhills, eliminating that concern altogether.
When that issue was settled, Keystone’s opponents raised another one: the possibility of an oil spill contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the primary sources of freshwater for cities and farms across the Midwest. James Goeke, a hydrogeologist from the University of Nebraska and one of the world’s leading experts on the Ogallala Aquifer, examined the project, spoke with TransCanada officials and determined the following: the risk of a spill was so minimal as to be virtually nonexistent, the risk of any contamination of the aquifer resulting from such a spill was equally minimal and if a spill somehow occurred and contamination somehow resulted, it would be so localized as to be a virtual non-issue. It’s also worth noting that thousands of miles of oil pipelines already crisscross the same aquifer.
With that issue dismissed, a third was raised. Apparently, the process of extracting oil from the oil sands of Canada puts more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than extracting oil conventionally. Keystone’s opponents contended that building the pipeline would encourage further oil sands extraction, causing more greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere than would be otherwise. One report went so far that it claimed the increase in greenhouse gas emissions would cause the entire planet to fall into “runaway global warming,” and life on Earth as we know it would come to an abrupt end.
Yes, you read that right. The last environmental concern standing in Keystone’s way is that this single pipeline will be the harbinger of armageddon.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the rest of the country is well aware that there’s no substantive environmental reason not to approve the last phase of the Keystone project. Those with legitimate conservationist sentiments understand that the environmental concerns Keystone originally presented have been addressed in a way that would satisfy any reasonable person. They also know the benefits Keystone would provide – the 42,100 jobs and $3.4 billion in GDP which would be created according to the U.S. State Department, increased energy security and a continued decline in prices at the pump – are simply too good to pass up.
This is why in virtually every poll conducted about Keystone, well over half of respondents have favored the project’s approval. In fact, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in September of 2013 not only found that 65 percent of respondents supported the project, but that 51 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats supported it.
Throughout his tenure, President Obama has frequently called for bipartisan action regarding energy and infrastructure. He has often been critical of Republicans for being unwilling to compromise on such issues. Such remarks, however, are hypocritical. The fact is that the president refuses to approve a project that has received overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle. He even recently issued a veto threat against legislation from Congress approving the project.
If the president wants Republicans to take his calls for bipartisanship seriously, he needs to back up his words with actions. He can start by approving Keystone.
Andrew Parks is a senior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.