Their View: Parties milking pipeline

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

President Barack Obama vetoed legislation that would have greenlighted the Keystone XL pipeline, linking Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast. The Senate lacks the votes to override Obama’s veto. Yet Keystone isn’t dead. Both Democrats and Republicans have an interest in keeping this political football in play.

Someday, we hope, the pipeline will be built. But that day won’t come any time soon — and perhaps never during Obama’s dwindling presidency.

In his veto message, Obama asserted that he hasn’t decided whether Keystone should be built or not. Obama said he was using his veto pen — for only the third time — mainly to preserve the executive branch’s jurisdiction over cross-border projects such as Keystone.

That’s just an excuse. Obama has been “reviewing” this project ever since he took office. The president has put a brick on it to serve his political objectives:

Keystone has come to symbolize a long and mighty struggle between environmentalists and the oil industry. Obama’s blockage of the project panders to his liberal base. Specifically, he’s pandering to Democratic donor Tom Steyer, a wealthy hedge-fund operator who has put his fortune behind stopping Keystone.

Keeping Keystone as a whipping boy for global warming suits a “green” president who, paradoxically, has watched domestic oil and gas production expand aggressively during his time in office. Offshore drilling? OK, says a White House eager to rev up the economy. Fracking? Bring it on.

But one more pipeline? In a nation crisscrossed with what the industry says are 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines? Oh, no. That would contribute to climate change by … moving a fossil fuel to refineries and markets.

Republicans in Congress benefit from this farce because it allows them to boast that they want to put more Americans to work. And don’t think they aren’t milking this dispute for political contributions.

In any rational assessment, Keystone wins on the merits. It would create jobs and improve efficiency in markets that sort out global supply of, and demand for, petroleum products.

Note, too, that Keystone wouldn’t cost the public purse a penny: A Canadian company, TransCanada, would foot the entire $8 billion tab. The project also promotes public safety. Moving oil by pipeline is much safer than by rail, the main alternative.

Best of all for a GOP weary of internal bickering, this project has unified the party — and even has attracted some of the president’s allies. The bill that Obama vetoed had passed with more than two dozen Democratic votes in the House and nine in the Senate. Two Democratic governors supported it. Trade unions closely tied to the Democratic Party sided with the Republicans, because building the pipeline would mean more work for their members.

The shame of it for Democrats who wind up paying a political price for Obama’s veto is that, on this issue, the Republicans are right.

Keystone might not be the biggest, best infrastructure project ever. But it deserves to be built, and promptly.