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The Keystone XL Southern Leg: President Obama's Al Gore Moment?


This Thursday, the president will take his energy roadshow to Cushing, Oklahoma, to proclaim victory for “approving” the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Some reports even indicate that he intends to announce a plan – and, no doubt, to claim credit – for expediting its construction. This segment of the pipeline will connect the storage and transportation hub at Cushing to the refining center of Houston and Port Arthur, Texas—a fraction of the original project. The president will try to characterize the project as a celebration of his accomplishments in approving pipelines, and his move to fast track the permit as atonement for rejecting the larger project. However, a closer look shows us otherwise….

  • The southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is being constructed in spite of the president—not because of him. Because this portion of the project does not cross an international border, no presidential permit is needed. The only outstanding issues are a Clean Water Act permit handled by the Army Corps of Engineers and a Biological Opinion handled by the Fish and Wildlife Service—approvals that should have been granted long ago, but for the Obama administration’s continued foot dragging, delaying approval of the project that has been under review for more than three years. For the president to claim credit for speeding up a process that his team delayed is misleading and purely political theater.
  • Keystone XL was intended to be a large pipeline project that brings nearly one million barrels of secure oil per day from Alberta, North Dakota, and Montana to the world’s largest refining center along the U.S. Gulf Coast. While construction of the Oklahoma-to-Texas segment will help move some oil to refineries and address the transport of crude already reaching the U.S., it does little to improve our energy security. If bringing additional Canadian oil supplies into the U.S. were truly a goal of this president, we would be celebrating the approval of a cross-border pipeline instead of this consolation prize. The president is trying to play the role of Santa Claus is coming to town, but really he is the Grinch who stole the pipeline….
  • President Obama states he has approved dozens of pipelines. In truth, pipelines have been constructed when he was not in a position to stop them. There is only one category of pipeline that requires presidential approval—an international pipeline like the originally proposed version of Keystone XL. This president has approved just one such project: the Alberta Clipper pipeline in 2009. But a truly notable milestone that the president probably won’t mention on his PR tour is that Keystone XL is the first time in history a Presidential Permit for a cross-border pipeline has ever been denied. Not the kind of history the president should be making in the current economy.
  • Embracing an “all of the above” energy strategy that will improve energy security requires us to reduce imports from dangerous overseas regimes. Blocking Canadian and American oil from reaching U.S. refineries takes us in the opposite direction. Even if President Obama thinks he deserves credit for construction of a pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas—a highly dubious claim—this does not remotely resemble a record of making energy security and affordability a top priority. Today’s staggering gas prices come as the country sees a failed energy policy by this administration.
  • President Obama believes he can take credit for approving Keystone XL’s southern leg, but he does not control this segment’s permitting process. This interstate pipeline requires numerous permits from state authorities, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service, but nothing from the White House. If the president gets credit for this project, perhaps Al Gore should get credit for inventing the Internet after all.