David Adler: Delaying Keystone pipeline decision is right call

April 24, 2014 

The Obama administration's decision to delay the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would transport dirty tar-sands crude from Canada's oil fields across an environmentally sensitive area of the Great Plains to Gulf Coast refineries, is wise, if politically difficult. It upholds the integrity and interests of the legal system, defers to state powers and the principle of federalism, protects the environment, and promotes what must be the long-term goal of the United States: implementing a clean, renewable energy policy.

In a bow to the laws of Nebraska, a state through which the pipeline passes, the U.S. State Department announced that its review of the Keystone XL project would await the outcome of litigation there. The pipeline's path in Nebraska was cast into doubt in February when a state court struck down a law that allowed Republican Gov. Dave Heineman the power to approve the project. The Nebraska judge held that such decision-making authority was vested in the state's Public Service Commission, established in 1885 to remove politics from decisions involving the taking of land for private projects.

The state's resolution of the matter will take at least a year. The case, brought by landowners, is on appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which might not rule until January. If the landowners win, the commission's decision would not be rendered until July, owing to a seven-month requirement under Nebraska law.

Idahoans, committed to the protection of private property and the principle of state power, can appreciate the deference the State Department is paying to Nebraska. After Nebraskans have made their own determination, then U.S. officials will conduct their review.

The delay of Keystone will allow more time for discussion and debate on a critical issue confronting America's environmental and energy future. Advocates of the project assert it will lead to the creation of tens, even hundreds of thousands of jobs - the numbers keep skyrocketing. But an independent analysis performed by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute has disputed this contention and concluded that Keystone XL will "not be a major source of U.S. jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work."

One of the major claims advanced by supporters is that it will improve America's energy security, which is certainly an overarching goal of the nation. But this assertion has been rebuffed by retired Brig. Gen. Steven M. Anderson, who served as the U.S. Army's senior logistics expert in Iraq from 2006-2007. Anderson has justly observed that the pipeline "would set back our renewable energy efforts for at least two decades, much to our enemies' delight. It would ensure we maintain our oil addiction and delay making the tough decisions regarding energy production, management and conservation that we need to start making today."

Our nation's environmental and energy-security goals must run in harness. Our stewardship of the environment and our search for clean, renewable energy cannot risk a project that would ship dirty, heavy oil over one of the largest supplies of underground fresh water in America, Nebraska's Ogallala Aquifer, particularly when the oil industry lacks knowledge of how to clean up raw tar sands after a spill.

Robert Redford, one of the nation's outspoken celebrities on environmental matters, recently penned a powerful essay, in which he concluded: "Keystone XL has no place in a healthy climate world." Those words should be echoed across America.

David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.

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