- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Four years ago, the State Department issued permits authorizing the construction of an oil pipeline that would cross our northern border on its way from Alberta, Canada, down to oil refineries in Texas. Along the way, this pipeline would snake through more than a half-dozen states, creating jobs and contributing to local tax bases. In fact, the pipeline would create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, which are badly needed during this economic rut.

From all appearances, the Keystone XL pipeline was on track after the State Department’s approval. But the project hit a major snag in July 2010, when the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority and claimed the State Department’s analysis was faulty because it didn’t consider oil-spill response plans, safety issues and greenhouse gas emissions. Despite approvals from states along the pipeline’s route, including my home state of Oklahoma, radical environmentalists began a massive campaign to pressure the White House to pick the EPA’s ruling over the State Department’s analysis.

An independent study estimated that the Keystone XL pipeline would contribute more than $585 million in state and local taxes to states along the route, generate more than $20 billion in new spending for the U.S. economy and significantly reduce our dependence on the Middle East and elsewhere for oil. But the environmentalists argued that the pipeline would pollute air and water supplies and harm migratory birds and other wildlife. Unfortunately for the tens of thousands of Americans who could have good-paying jobs from the Keystone XL pipeline, migratory birds won out.

The EPA’s decision to intervene in this raises some very serious questions about how and why the agency thought it had the muscle to tell the State Department it hadn’t done its job correctly. I was glad to see the Institute for Energy Research submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA to turn over documents related to this decision. We have every reason to demand to know why the EPA sided with radical environmentalists over jobs.

The first elected office I held was a seat on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling in the Sooner State. The lessons I learned as a commissioner and the ones I learned as a U.S. representative taught me that the domestic energy sector is a massive job creator and contributes a tremendous amount to our economy. Sadly, the Obama administration is following the EPA’s lead in being openly hostile to this economically valuable industry.

The Keystone XL pipeline would move 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to the U.S. Part of the pipeline would pass through Cushing, Okla., where there is a glut of oil because we don’t have enough pipe to move it. That oil is just sitting there, and the Keystone project is critical to freeing up that oversupply.

Consider this: There already are about 200,000 miles of similar pipeline in the U.S., and TransCanada, the company overseeing the Keystone project, has been building pipelines in North America for more than 50 years. While we should ask hard questions about the safety of the project and how it would impact surrounding areas, TransCanada has said Keystone would include nearly 60 improvements above and beyond the standard requirements of U.S. regulators. There are built-in redundancies throughout the entire pipeline to prevent leaks. Still, this wasn’t good enough for the administration.

The radical environmental groups are running out of excuses to keep killing smart economic projects and are grasping at straws. Take their complaint that the Keystone XL pipeline would be harmful to migratory birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 33,000 migratory birds are killed each year by wind-turbine rotors, but we don’t see groups marching to outlaw wind turbines.

Instead, the EPA - spurred on by its radical environmental allies - is pushing for more and more job-killing regulations on industries that could play a critical role in our nation’s economic recovery. Through regulatory uncertainty and demands for expensive environmental upgrades, the EPA is slowly but surely trying to drive a nail into the coffin of job creators like those in the energy sector. Three Philadelphia-area oil refineries announced last year that they’re shuttering operations, eliminating about 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, while refiners in other states are keeping an anxious eye on their own ability to continue operating.

The United States is the most prosperous nation in the world. We have an abundance of natural resources that, if we only used them, would reduce our dependence on oil from foreign governments, some of which do not have our best interests at heart. It’s a real shame to see federal officials using political science instead of real science when making decisions on projects that would create good-paying American jobs and help turn our economy around.

J.C. Watts is a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Oklahoma.

(Note: When originally published, this article should have disclosed that former Rep. J.C. Watts has represented energy interests as a lobbyist as noted on his corporate web site.)