Earlier this year, President Obama indefinitely postponed construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. This project would have transported synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta to numerous U.S. states. The president’s decision was seen widely as politically motivated to shore up liberal support in an election year and earn praise from environmentalist groups. In the meantime, Mr. Obama frustrated union and business leaders because of the loss of potential jobs and financial benefits and soured relations with the Canadian government.
President Obama hasn’t officially taken Keystone off the bargaining table. Regardless, some political observers speculate that his re-election in November would ensure that the pipeline never gets built. That’s possible. But I think if GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney wins the election, this important project finally could get the green light.
Mr. Romney is a strong supporter of the Keystone pipeline. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fellow political conservative, also supports Keystone and wouldn’t serve as a political roadblock. TransCanada Corp., the company that proposed building the pipeline, likely would be interested in restarting the process. Many labor and business organizations also would back this project from the get-go.
That’s a good start. But in turn, a few other important things also need to happen to ensure the pipeline’s ultimate success.
First, Mr. Romney must make sure Mr. Obama’s delay tactics don’t have a long-lasting effect on popular opinion. While certain states (Montana, Oklahoma and Texas) are solidly behind Keystone, other states (Illinois) could be swayed by unsubstantiated environmental concerns about pollution levels, air quality and protecting wildlife. It’s vitally important that Mr. Romney and other GOP lawmakers make the case for Keystone. The pipeline would create a stronger market economy, decrease dependency on foreign oil, introduce new business opportunities for individuals and corporations and add thousands of new jobs.
Second, Mr. Romney needs to have strong support from all levels of government. At present, most Republican politicians (and even a few centrist Democrats) support the construction of the Keystone pipeline. But as we know, a vote for a Republican president doesn’t necessarily lead to like-minded votes in the House and Senate. There’s no question that Republican control in both Houses would lead to a smoother passage for Keystone, so Mr. Romney has to encourage voters to support his candidacy as well as those of other members of the Grand Old Party.
Third, Mr. Romney has an untapped resource at his disposal: the pro-Keystone contingent within the scientific community. For years, Mr. Obama and the Democrats have successfully promoted scientists, environmentalists and other researchers who support their point of view. Mr. Romney and his senior officials would need to find experts and academics who understand the positive benefits of building a pipeline to counter any existing negative associations. This won’t be an easy task, as there are significant numbers of left-leaning scientists and academics in the public realm. But there are various experts who believe in combining free-market economics with environmentalism and would prefer developing Alberta’s oil sands as an alternative to purchasing foreign oil from tyrannical regimes. It would be up to a Romney White House to find them, vet them and promote them.
Fourth, Mr. Romney needs to solidify trade relations with Canada. That shouldn’t be too hard to achieve: Whereas Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama have maintained cordial relations, the former would be a natural political ally for the GOP presidential candidate. Also, while Canada is a middle power with a smaller economy than the United States’, it’s also the world’s fifth-largest energy producer — and the United States’ largest oil supplier. Mr. Obama’s decision to postpone Keystone angered the Tories and may lead them to consider other options. (For example, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project potentially could transport crude oil to China.) To prevent this, Mr. Romney has to push Mr. Harper’s primary economic focus squarely back into the American camp.
Fifth, Mr. Romney needs to set a realistic timeline for Keystone’s completion. Mr. Obama’s foolish decision to please his Hollywood pals and liberal Democrats has pushed the pipeline project into logistical limbo. It also has increased the fears and concerns of ordinary Americans. As a successful businessman, Mr. Romney understands the need for fiscal prudence, investor confidence and meeting targets for job completion. By ensuring that Keystone has a concrete plan of action and a firm deadline, Americans will in turn show greater confidence to the Keystone pipeline.
Michael Taube is a columnist and former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.