YOU MIGHT have guessed that the first major policy effort from a new Republican Congress promising adult leadership would address an issue of high national importance neglected during years of party bickering on a divided Capitol Hill. If so, you guessed wrong.
Congress is in the process of passing a bill that would approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the controversial project that would make it easier to transport heavy crude from Canada’s “oil sands” to the Gulf of Mexico coast. Despite what you might have heard, the pipeline wouldn’t kill the planet, nor would it supercharge the economy. You don’t have to take our word for either assertion: The State Department has said so; nonpartisan energy experts have said so; The Post’s Fact Checker has said so. Keystone XL should have been treated like a routine infrastructure project from the beginning of the permitting process — six years ago. Instead, the issue has been blown far out of proportion.
Environmental activists turned the pipeline into a rallying symbol, convincing themselves and others that rejecting it could prevent significant climate degradation. President Obama was caught between State Department experts saying approval wouldn’t be a big deal and his environmentalist base insisting that he take a stand. Rather than settling the issue years ago, he chose to delay. Meanwhile, Canadian oil production expanded, much of it moving around on trains.
For their part, Republicans took political advantage, jamming the president with measures demanding an accelerated decision or, in the case of the GOP’s latest bill, outright approval.
As the debate went on, it moved farther from reality. Republicans oversold the number of jobs the project would create. Mr. Obama descended into rank economic nationalism with claims that the oil the pipeline would transport wouldn’t stay in the United States. Those claims are wrong. And even if they were true, so what? The United States relies on the global oil trade, the flexibility and durability of which are crucial to the world economy. The nationalist view is shortsighted, selfish and hypocritical, and it was embarrassingly articulated by the president when he was on an overseas tour in the Asia-Pacific.
That probably won’t stop Democratic lawmakers from playing the protectionist card as the Senate considers this year’s Keystone bill, proposing amendments to require that U.S. steel be used in its construction and that none of the transported product be exported. Attaching these conditions would only compound the shabby treatment that the U.S. government has given Canada, a close ally. Americans would rightly expect better conduct from the Canadian government.
We don’t blame Republicans for wondering why the pipeline’s approval is still in limbo, particularly now that a Nebraska court has thrown out a challenge to its routing, which had been the most recent pretext for Obama administration stalling. But the issue isn’t worth wasting more legislative time or inflaming partisan tensions at the start of a new Congress. If Republicans nevertheless proceed, Mr. Obama would be wise to sign the bill and get Keystone off of the national agenda or strike a deal with Republicans in exchange for a concession of environmental significance.
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