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De-Demagoguing the Pipeline: A Televised White House Summit

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Anyone who has run an organization with multiple stakeholders knows that the process of coming to a decision can be as important as the decision itself. No organization has as many stakeholders as the United States government and government policy. The State Department's impact report on the XL Keystone pipeline should be considered as one part, but not the only or final part, of that process.

Rather than make the decision with competing, hyperbolic claims clanging around the airwaves, and suffering the residual demagoguery, the president should bring us all in on the decision-making process.

It would simple for the president to announce that the State Department report indicates that the tar sands petroleum will, when burned, increase the amount of carbon by 17 percent over other oil sources, that 17 percent is the "wrong direction" as we are continually striving to reduce carbon emissions, and that the conclusion that no single program that comprises a tiny percentage of total carbon burned could possibly itself have a major deleterious impact is, well, like, "duh?"

But, the president, and, more importantly, the planet, would be missing a greater opportunity to engage the entire country in a discussion about oil, carbon, climate, aquifers, jobs, national security and the economy.

Instead, the president should instruct Secretary of State John Kerry to convene a summit on the Keystone XL Pipeline inviting authors of the state department's report, gulf refiners, climatologists (remarkably absent from the report's authors), tar sands' owners, geologists, petroleum chemists, economists, military, unions, and so forth and devote an entire day to presentations, questions and answers, and so forth. Some of the participants could "make their cases", whereas others should be on a panel challenging their data and assumptions.

For example, should we not have experts on water explain the impact of a ruptured pipe on the nation's water supply? Should we not have those same experts explain what our "water future" looks like even without contaminating those aquifers? What about defense department experts on the impact of the pipeline on energy independence, and military security?

C-SPAN would carry it. One might hope the cable stations would too as the issue is not theoretical, but involves a concrete decision.

The agenda should include more, however, than just the pros or cons of the Keystone XL Pipeline. For example, the president should want, and I am sure he does, more than a simple "yea" or "nay" on the pipeline. If it is a "nay", then it should be accompanied by a program to create whatever jobs are lost. This is not only the right thing to do but also has the virtue of throwing down the gauntlet to Republicans who seek to block every job-creating bill the president proposes. Many of those that would have constructed the pipeline could certainly repair and rebuilt our infrastructure, include water, sewer, rail, roads, energy grids, airports, schools and many others.

Perhaps, even a philosopher should be included. I, for one, have difficulty understanding the risk/benefit analysis to the U.S. of transporting filthy oil under some of our most precious aquifers to dump 17 percent more carbon than alternative fuel sources into the atmosphere when it contributes absolutely nothing to our energy independence, and raises the price of gasoline in the mid-west.

The president could also connect the conference to the internet and let citizens provide questions and comments as in his on line conferences. If it runs two days, so be it. The gain with respect to citizens' understanding of the issues and input into the process far outweighs the expenditure of time. Moreover, the decision would become far less easy to demagogue.

President Obama promised us transparency. It is difficult to think of a more focused decision on the one hand, and its broad implications on the other, that could provide the nation and the world a more lasting benefit than airing all the considerations in a public forum.

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