One of the holiest words in the Democratic economic lexicon is “infrastructure.”
Yet the proposed Keystone XL pipeline represents a big, honking $7 billion, 1,700-mile-long infrastructure project that the Obama administration is delaying and the environmentalists are opposing. If Pres. Barack Obama thinks the country lacks its former economic verve, he need look no farther than the Keystone XL fiasco for a demonstration of one reason why.
Keystone XL meets every possible standard. President Obama wants “shovel ready” jobs. The materials to build the pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast are waiting to go. The president rightly notes that construction has been hard hit in the recession. Building Keystone XL will create thousands of construction jobs. The president criticizes our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Keystone XL is projected to pump as much as 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from our friendly neighbor to the north.
President Obama should want to sign the permit himself and send Vice Pres. Joe Biden to take credit at the groundbreaking. At this rate, though, the project will get underway sometime in the second Obama or first Cain administration, if ever. For more than three years, the administration has been dragging TransCanada, the prospective builder of the pipeline, through a review process involving about a dozen federal agencies and a cast of thousands. In the time the federal government has been considering TransCanada’s project, Al Smith and the gang could have built three Empire State Buildings, at one year and 45 days each.
The proposed pipeline crosses an international border, so the State Department has been the lead agency in charge of ceaseless bureaucratic delay. Its environmental-impact statement runs to eight volumes. It informs us that “tree squirrels depend on forested habitats, usually deciduous or mixed hardwood forests with abundant supplies of acorns and hickory nuts.” It examines the proposed project as “an undertaking under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act,” the implementing regulation of which is “36 CFR Part 800 (2004).” It takes a hard look at the possible spread of “137 federally restricted and regulated noxious weeds,” as well as “state and local noxious weeds.”
The upshot is that the pipeline poses little risk to the environment. But the reviewing must go on. The State Department is now considering whether the pipeline is in “the national interest.” A department official told the Los Angeles Times that the continuing process will include, “if needed, gathering and assessing additional information.” Such is the fate of 21st-century infrastructure, no matter what gauzy visions President Obama conjures of “nation building at home.”
The environmentalists turned out thousands of protesters to surround the White House over the weekend in opposition to Keystone XL. They charge that the project is a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, although there’s no evidence for this. Their real objection is that Keystone XL is an instrument in the destruction of the planet. It aids and abets the extraction of crude from the oil sands of Canada that enviros worry is intense in carbon emissions and unsightly to boot. (Wired magazine complains of “the apocalyptic landscapes” of the oil sands, as if they should be picturesque.)
Whether we allow Keystone XL or not, Canada is going to exploit its natural resources. It’s a question of whether it benefits us, or whether Canada is forced to build a pipeline to the Pacific Coast instead, and send its oil to China. For us, this shouldn’t be a close call.
In a promotional spot for her show, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow praises the wonders of massive projects like the Hoover Dam. She must have missed that the environmental Left has been busy working to tear down existing dams. The Democrats are the party of the regulations that hamper infrastructure projects and of the environmentalists who work to kill them outright. If that weren’t so, Joe Biden would have cut a ribbon for TransCanada long ago.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2011 King Features Syndicate