- - Thursday, May 15, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline is intended to carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. It would then connect with existing pipelines that supply refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. One would think that this project, contributing as it would to energy security and increased employment, would be a no-brainer, especially as the U.S. economy continues to limp along. In the age of Barack Obama, Harry Reid and their war on fossil fuels and the Koch bothers, one would be wrong.

Much has been made of the alleged “civil war” within the Republican Party, pitting the “Tea Party” against “the establishment.” The battle over Keystone, though, makes it clear that the Democrats are being roiled by intraparty strife as well, as two powerful and influential interest groups collide. On the one side are labor unions, which want to see the pipeline built in order to stimulate employment. On the other side are environmentalists, “green energy” crony capitalists and rent-seekers.

Regarding Keystone, the Obama administration has repeatedly sided with the latter group, delaying the approval of the pipeline. Despite a string of assessments by the State Department, which has jurisdiction since the pipeline crosses an international border, that conclude the project would have negligible environmental impact, the White House recently delayed a decision again until after the 2014 elections.

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, called this action by the Obama administration “gutless.” He continued: “Once again, the administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country. This certainly is no example of profiles in courage.”

Advocates of Keystone observe that once completed, the pipeline would bring more than 700,000 barrels of oil per day and directly create 20,000 truly “shovel-ready” jobs. The least that can be said is that the Keystone decision flies in the face of President Obama’s ongoing rhetoric about “creating jobs.”

All Senate Republicans and as many as a dozen Senate Democrats, many of them facing difficult electoral challenges in 2014, subsequently sought to force a binding vote on Keystone. One of the embattled Democrats, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, a strong supporter of the pipeline, observed that “there is building support in the Democratic Caucus to move forward on Keystone.” However, Mr. Reid, the Senate majority leader, used a parliamentary maneuver to foil the vote. The refusal to permit the vote was welcomed by the White House. Administration spokesman Jay “Who-are-you-going-to-believe, me-or-your-lying-eyes?” Carney even said with a straight face that Mr. Obama wants to keep this issue “out of politics” by letting the State Department resolve it in 2015.

Why is the administration and the Senate Democratic leadership willing to stiff this core Democratic constituency on Keystone? The answer seems to be money, as the party defers to such green-energy crony capitalists as billionaire hedge fund operator Tom Steyer, who has pledged $100 million to help pro-green Democrats and punish Democrats who don’t toe the environmentalist line (for instance, a pro-Keystone Democrat, Rep. Stephen Lynch, in the most recent Massachusetts Senate race).

The green-energy, environmentalist wing of the Democratic Party claims to be motivated by the altruistic concern that Keystone poses serious environmental risks. The State Department has repeatedly refuted this charge. The fact is that failing to construct the Keystone pipeline has the potential to actually increase environmental risk.

First, if the Keystone XL route is foreclosed, the Canadians will build a pipeline to their Pacific coast and ship crude oil to China by tanker. Tanker spills are more frequent and destructive than pipeline leaks. Indeed, although the long-term trend in spills from all sources is sharply down, the spill rate from shipping oil by tanker is about six times higher than spills from offshore oil rigs or pipelines. Second, China is by far the world’s largest emitter of greenhouses gases.

The claims of moral purity on the part of green-energy advocates such as Mr. Steyer are belied by breathtaking hypocrisy. On the one hand, Mr. Reid takes to the floor of the Senate on almost a daily basis for an Orwellian “two minutes of hate” against the Koch brothers, who actually produce real goods and services. On the other, Mr. Steyer and his ilk are quintessential rent-seekers who use taxpayer money to subsidize uneconomical green-energy projects that would never get off the ground otherwise. While Keystone would increase jobs, Democratic crony capitalists such as Mr. Steyer give us such monstrosities as GreenTech, Solyndra, Fisker, A123 and other companies that produce nothing of value.

The recent dust-up in the Senate over Keystone illustrates that the Democratic Party — and by extension, the United States as a whole — stands at a crossroads. It can choose economic growth based on plentiful energy. Or it can choose stagnation and decline in deference to crony capitalists and those for whom global warming is not a matter of science, but religious zeal.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

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