This past Tuesday, Nebraska Republican Governor Dave Heineman approved a revised route for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline through his state. Heineman, reneging on his earlier opposition, reasoned that the pipeline would create significant job growth and revenues in Nebraska. This turn of events renews the pressure on President Barack Obama to make a decision concerning the pipeline. Obama touted his record on climate change in the last election (or to be more accurate, his opponent’s utter lack of one), but approving the pipeline will undoubtedly create jobs and possibly allow him to allocate more political capital for his other goals in his last term.
In a letter to the president, Heineman argues that the new route avoids lands which would be sensitive to oil spills and other environmental consequences of the pipeline. He also asserts that the pipeline’ operator, TransCanada, has assured him that the risk of a spill will be minimal and they will take responsibility for repairing any such incidents. And despite the fact that some of the strongest opposition for the pipeline is actually located in Nebraska, it still seems like a pretty open and shut case; an economic boost that creates jobs and won’t cause a war in Congress. Why not build the pipeline?
Well, it’s not that simple. First, throw any idea of this allowing Obama to obtain any political capital with Republicans out the window. He courted their favor often in his first term to his detriment; nothing has changed since then. Second, this pipeline – for all the talk of “minimal risk” – would be an enormous detriment to the environment. TransCanada’s assurances ring hollow in the face of their dubious history and the basic nature of this particular pipeline; “the EPA points out that tar sands carbon emissions are ‘82% greater than the average crude refined in the U.S., on a well-to-tank basis.’ The local environmental impact is also extensive: the strip mining for bitumen has caused extensive damage to Canada’s boreal forest and creates “dead” water ponds containing mercury, arsenic, cadmium and hydrocarbons that are so big, they can be seen from space.”
What this really boils down to is whether Obama wants to pursue his goal of contributing to the energy independence of the United States or his promise to tackle global warming. And contrary to what Gov. Heineman would have people believe, the Keystone pipeline is not a magic solution wherein Obama can have his cake and eat it too. (What, would you like to eat a cake baked with arsenic, cadmium and other decidedly inedible – and presumably unappetizing – materials? I thought not.)
This is Obama’s choice; take the pipeline and reap the short term benefits of an improved Nebraskan economy. Or deny it, take even more heat from Republicans and prevent more damage to the increasingly warming climate. Either way, he’s going to take heat for it. If he approves the pipeline, that won’t be the only heat he’ll feel.