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Obama's Pipeline Decision an Easy One

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The decision to reject construction of the Keystone XL pipeline should be an easy one for the Obama Administration. Mind you, "easy decision" is a relative term when it comes to the President of the United States. All decisions a POTUS faces are complex ones... except for pardoning the turkey at Thanksgiving -- to do otherwise would be political suicide.

One reason denying the pipeline should be easy for him is that he all but promised exactly this type of action in both his second inaugural address and most recent State of the Union address. And on top of that, his all-but-promises are supported by a significant majority (65 percent) of the American people. Making a decision that turns its back on those facts would be a political misstep even worse than not pardoning the turkey. As Van Jones (formerly of the Obama Administration) recently said, "If, after he gave that speech for his inauguration, the first thing he does is approve a pipeline bringing tar sands through America ... the first thing that pipeline runs over is the credibility of the president on his climate policy."

But the motivation to give Keystone XL a thumbs-down extends well beyond popular support, political survival, and the desire to keep one's word. Let's take a look:

  • Production & processing of tar sands oil releases about 14 percent more greenhouse gases than the regular, everyday oil used in the U.S.
  • The pipeline would add greenhouse gases equivalent to adding four million new cars on the road, wiping out the benefits of new emissions control standards set for medium- to heavy-duty trucks.
  • The pipeline would cross the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's biggest and a major source of water in the U.S. Given that the Keystone I pipeline has leaked 8,500 percent more than projected (12 times in a one-year span), contamination of the aquifer is a valid concern.
  • Contrary to Kito's assertion in today's cartoon, the pipeline would not be much of a job creator. The recent State Department report (perceived as supporting the pipeline) says once construction is completed, Keystone would add only 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs to the economy.
  • The same report says the pipeline's ultimate effect on gas prices will be to raise -- not lower -- them.
  • The State Department report also asserts that Keystone XL will not positively affect energy independence, given that the United States' recent successes with natural gas will put the country in position to be a net exporter by 2035. Besides, Keystone XL is an export pipeline, meaning little of the oil it carries will be sold in the U.S.
  • It's doable. As Michael Grunwald recently wrote in TIME magazine, "There are many climate problems a President can't solve, but Keystone isn't one of them. It's a choice between Big Oil and a more sustainable planet. The right answer isn't always somewhere in the middle."

If Barack Obama approves the pipeline, he may be remembered as just another president following the form of his predecessors in making the obvious short-term economic decision. He'll be remembered as someone who went back on his word to fight climate change in a big way.

If he rejects the pipeline, on the other hand, he will almost certainly be remembered ultimately as a hero, making a tough decision that would benefit mankind in a posterity.

I know which decision I'm rooting for.

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