So the wait on the Keystone XL pipeline is over.
However, the State Department did release its final environmental impact report today. And what did it say? That the pipeline will not increase carbon emissions much, which is exactly what previous reports also found.
So what’s changed? Well, with this report, President Barack Obama can give the pipeline the go-ahead. In 90 days.
All that’s left in the bureaucratic process is for the administration to decide whether the pipeline is in the U.S.’s “national interest.” In the coming month, the public will be invited to comment on the project, and the same eight federal agencies that have already weighed in will have 60 days beyond that to weigh in again. It’s doubtful anyone will have anything new to add.
The pluses and minuses have been clear for a long time, as has the fact that the former outweigh the latter.
The Keystone pipeline is in the national interest -- not because it will provide jobs (they’ll mainly be seasonal and temporary, and there won’t be all that many), but because the U.S. needs the oil. Despite the boom in shale oil, the U.S. still does not produce as much as it uses, especially not enough of the heavy crude that many U.S. refineries are configured to use. (The shale oil from North Dakota and Texas is light crude.)
Keystone will carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day -- some of it from North Dakota -- to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Pipeline opponents often say that, in the name of fighting climate change, the Canadian crude should stay in the ground. Sure. But that’s not going to happen. Canada is committed to extracting the oil. As long as there are buyers, it will make its way to market however it can -- by train, truck, ship or another pipeline.
In any case, the total emissions from oil-sands crude are only marginally greater than those from other oil.
There was a time when it made political sense for Obama to delay a decision, to get beyond the 2012 election without discouraging pipeline opponents from voting for him. But now the votes are in -- both for the president and, surely, for the pipeline. Further delay would just keep a poisonous debate alive.
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