- - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

TransCanada’s decision to reapply for a federal permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the U.S.-Canadian border offers President Obama something that rarely comes around - a second chance to do the right thing.

When the president rejected TransCanada’s original Keystone XL application - finding a project capable of delivering roughly 1 million barrels of oil a day to American refineries not in the national interest - he threw away a golden opportunity to create jobs and improve America’s energy security.

The reasons for approving the pipeline are straightforward: It’s a shovel-ready project that’s great for our economy. It would bring oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, and would pick up American oil produced in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska along the way.

Keystone XL is exactly the type of world-class, private-sector infrastructure project that a nation mired in debt, deeply dependent on expensive foreign oil and desperate for jobs should embrace. Its construction would ensure a secure, long-term supply of oil from a close ally and provide well-paying jobs for thousands of Americans. Yet, what should have been an easy decision fell victim to election-year politics last January as the president sought to appease his environmental base.

Now that TransCanada has reapplied for its cross-border permit, the president has another chance to make the right call. Trans-Canada has even rerouted the pipeline around sensitive lands in Nebraska, taking away the president’s only stated reason for blocking the project.

So how has the administration reacted? The State Department says it will issue a decision on TransCanada’s application next year. But there’s no reason to wait. President Obama could do today what he should have done four months ago. Pushing off a decision until after the November election may be good politics for him, but dragging this process out will only hurt our economy and our energy security.

If the president continues to delay Keystone, Congress should approve the pipeline as part of the transportation bill now before a House-Senate conference committee. While some have expressed their desire to avoid “controversial” issues during conference negotiations, the real controversy is the president’s decision to block the line in the first place. With millions of Americans out of work and a growing need for a stable supply of energy, it makes good sense to approve Keystone XL quickly.

Some think that the longer Keystone is delayed, the less likely it will happen. That’s true - but it doesn’t mean Canada will halt the development of its oil resources as a result. Instead, our neighbors to the north will simply seek different buyers. At least two projects are now under way that will allow Canada to send more of its oil through alternative pipelines to ports on its west coast, where it can be shipped to markets in Asia.

Chief among those markets is China, which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited just days after Mr. Obama’s initial rejection of Keystone. There’s no question China wants oil - from Canada and anywhere else it can get it. China is already investing heavily in the Canadian energy sector and appears eager to take on the vast supply of Alberta oil that the Obama administration has rejected.

Canada is taking notice - and taking steps to ensure it can meet China’s growing appetite for energy. The latest budget introduced by Canada’s federal government would reduce both the amount of time it takes to complete environmental assessments and the number of reviewers. Mr. Harper and others in Canada’s government clearly recognize the potential for long-term economic prosperity that increased oil production can bring.

America is now in a race with China for Canada’s substantial energy resources. We certainly have our own tremendous energy resources in places like Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and the Rocky Mountain West that should be developed, but to the extent that political opposition prevents that from happening, it makes more sense to import oil from our closest ally and biggest trading partner, rather than OPEC. After all, Canada is far closer, far more stable and shares America’s core values.

The Keystone XL pipeline represents a chance to improve our nation’s economy, strengthen a relationship with a key ally and bolster our energy security. As Canada’s Mr. Harper has said, the decision whether America should import more of his country’s oil should be a “no-brainer.” We hope the president will finally make the right decision on this project - but if he again misses his chance, those of us in Congress will have to step in.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sen. David Vitter is a Louisiana Republican.

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