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Joe Sugiyama: Rash indecision

By Joe Sugiyama, Daily Opinion Columnist
Published January 23, 2012

When I first wrote about the Keystone XL pipeline last October, I assumed it was a forgone conclusion the thing would be built. All the tree-hugger protests in the world wouldn’t be able to stop a project that was projected to import 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the United States. And I was right — kind of.

It turns out environmentalists have a rather unlikely group to thank for putting a halt to the pipeline — the GOP. That’s right — the Republican Party has unwittingly thrown a wrench into Keystone XL’s progress with a clause attached to a payroll tax cut bill, demanding a 60-day deadline for its review process. That bill, passed last month, gave President Barack Obama until last week to approve or reject the hot-button issue.

Much to the chagrin of Republicans — who believed lighting a fire under the proposal would yield a rash decision to uphold the wishes of jobless Americans — Obama rejected the project. The State Department cited the expedited timeline as the main reason for the pipeline’s rejection. There wasn’t enough time to fully explore the environmental impact of Keystone XL on the regions in its path. Though the decision was ultimately Obama’s to make, the State Department strongly suggested he deny the permit.

Obama has said that Keystone XL isn’t dead in the water and his administration was on pace to approve it before Congress’s interference. There might be hope for an alternative pipeline in the future — barring further Republican meddling with the approval process.

Russ K. Girling, chief executive of TransCanada, the Canadian company attempting to build the pipeline, has already gone on record saying “TransCanada remains fully committed to the construction of Keystone XL,” and that they “will reapply for a presidential permit and expect a new application to be processed in an expedited manner, to allow for an in-service date of late 2014.”

To borrow from College Gameday’s Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. According to Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental affairs, it’s not that simple. Expediting the process is currently not an option, and a new proposal would warrant an entirely new Final Environmental Impact Statement, in addition to the months needed to process its findings. The Obama Administration has said it will study these new pipeline routes, but the final decision on the permit will be delayed until after the presidential election in November.

As you can imagine, this was a highly unpopular decision among Republicans and oil companies alike. The American Petroleum Institute is in the process of launching a campaign advocating for the pipeline. The group notes that Keystone XL is the “largest shovel-ready project in America” — a fact that will surely be hammered home during the upcoming presidential election.

The GOP presidential candidates are united under the front that Obama has cost the country with his rejection of the pipeline. Mitt Romney has called Obama’s decision “as shocking as it is revealing,” citing the president’s “lack of seriousness about bringing down unemployment, restoring economic growth and achieving energy independence.” Rick Santorum claims that Obama is “pandering to radical environmentalists.” And the ever soft-spoken Newt Gingrich called the rejection “a stunningly stupid thing to do.”

The opinions of the GOP candidates have been well-received among their Republican brethren, but the fact remains that this rejection is their own doing. With ample time to evaluate the environmental impacts of the pipeline and offer alternative solutions to these issues, Keystone XL could have very well been the next big project for the U.S.

God knows waiting for our government to address an issue can be like watching paint dry. That said, a verdict that has the potential to directly affect the health of millions of Americans is not something that should be decided on a whim. Republicans dropped the ball on this one (though you’d be hard-pressed to get one to admit it) and they should be the ones under fire for the rejection of the pipeline. If they’d only let the process play out, our country would be in a position to create thousands of jobs and import millions of gallons of turmoil-free crude oil.

Joe Sugiyama can be reached at jmsugi@umich.edu or on Twitter @JoeSugiyama.


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