Obama blaming Canada for Keystone delay is just more fence-sitting

By on September 6, 2013
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As the latest, realistic decision point on whether the Keystone XL pipeline gets a United States permit slips toward the spring of 2014, the new excuse bandied about is that the delay is Canada’s fault because it has failed to deliver greenhouse gas regulations for the oil and gas industry.

It’s an excuse that needs to be exposed for what it is: a continuation of the U.S. administration’s leadership by avoidance on a grossly mishandled project.

Indications are that Canada will be well on its way to implementing regulations for oil producers by next spring that will be more stringent than anything Obama has been able to deliver in his own country. The regulations will put Canada’s oil and gas industry at a disadvantage versus U.S. oil producers and all other suppliers of oil to the United States, yet the odds are Obama will still sit on the fence because he will by then be facing mid-term elections in November 2014, when he will need the support of his insatiable green base.

The Canadian government is staying mum on all of this, but sources say it has pushed back on informal White House overtures to link approval of the $7-billion oil sands pipeline from Alberta to Texas to tougher climate change policies for oil sands producers.

And rightly so. The President has been short on delivering and long on changing goal posts on the project. Besides, he has no right to meddle with or take credit for Canadian climate change policy already in development and designed to meet Canada’s own commitments under the Copenhagen Accord.

Meanwhile, new events could have more weight on the pipeline’s future than Canadian GHG regulations: A U.S.-driven attack on Syria that further destabilizes the Middle East, pushing up oil and gasoline prices and recasting the project as a hedge against oil supply disruptions; KXL proponent TransCanada Corp. pulling the plug and waiting for Obama to be out of office; the President realizing that stringing Canada along and denying a permit for a project that enjoys vast U.S. support doesn’t buy him votes.

The U.S. administration started linking approval of the project to GHG regulations in March, right after an updated environmental impact statement prepared for the State Department found KXL would have no significant impact on the environment. The statement should have cleared the way for a permit, since all other hurdles after years of review were cleared, including a re-routing through Nebraska to avoid environmentally sensitive areas that resulted in the state’s backing early this year.

But environmental organizations refused to accept the inevitability of approval and swamped the State Department with input as part of its preparation of a final environmental impact statement.

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