- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2012

The controversial Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline deserves U.S. government support and should be the centerpiece of a new national energy strategy, according to a pair of top business spokesmen.

“We dont as a nation have an energy strategy,” said John Engler, president and CEO of Business Roundtable, which includes some of the top executives at some of the nation’s biggest companies. “This is a weakness. I think if you had a strategy, the Keystone pipeline would have to be part of it. I cant imagine that it wouldnt be.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, in his annual address on the state of American business Thursday, also pressed for quick approval of the pipeline.

“There is no legitimate reason, none at all, to subject it to further delay,” he said.

The $7 billion pipeline poses a political dilemma for the Obama administration, with major labor unions and business groups supporting the project, but with many in the environmental community strongly opposed.

Mr. Obama hoped to put off a decision on whether to approve the pipeline until after the election, but was pressured by congressional Republicans to render his decision by Feb. 21.

Mr. Engler, a former Michigan governor, said Thursday he hopes the nations energy strategy will be a campaign issue in the 2012 presidential elections, with candidates’ views on Keystone a key element of the debate. He also questioned Mr. Obama’s cautious approach.

“I would think [President Obama] could turn this into a [political] advantage,” he said.

The 1,700-mile pipeline would deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas.Business and labor groups say it will create 20,000 direct jobs and reduce the nations dependence on oil from less reliable foreign sources.

But environmentalists fear it will only promote the use of fossil fuels while threatening sensitive areas such as Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to much of the Midwest.

This is a “rare” issue where are business and labor groups are teaming up, rather than bickering, Mr. Engler said.

“This is one that brings business and labor together,” Mr. Engler said. “Wed like to see it more often.

“When it comes to the jobs agenda, theres a lot that we have in common,” he added. “You can complain about whether the job should be a unionized job or not, but if theres no work, that hurts both unions and businesses.”

Mr. Engler acknowledged the political calendar has made Mr. Obama’s decision tougher.

“I think the timing is just unfortunate, because were close to an election,” Mr. Engler said. “I mean, I think if we were five days after an election, it would be a no-brainer to be approved.”

TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone pipeline, announced earlier this week that it has almost finished developing a new route that would go to greater lengths to avoid the Ogallala Aquifer, and many Republicans in Nebraska have now said they are ready to support the revised route.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday criticized the congressional mandate for a quick up-or-down decision on Keystone, calling the Feb. 21 deadline “artificial” and appearing to hint that the administration will seek more time.

“Not only has no route been identified by the company, but the environmental assessment would take six to nine months,” Mr. Carney said. “To try and circumvent that process is counterproductive.”

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