Members of the press listen during the U.S. Chamber's State of American Business address.
This week, the Senate begins debate on the Keystone XL pipeline. A Politico Magazine story puts the fight over it in the bigger context of building necessary energy infrastructure projects:
As Keystone’s problems imprint themselves on the nation’s political DNA, environmentalists and local advocacy groups are using the same template that has stalled it for six years to stoke resistance to fossil-fuel projects from coast to coast. Word is out in the oil and gas industry that NIMBY is the new normal. From fuel-starved New England to the refinery country of California, the legacy of the pipeline fight has become an organized and galvanized local resistance to new energy infrastructure.
Anti-energy groups have a term for this relentless opposition: “Blockadia.” Naomi Klein, a leader of the movement explained the term in a 2014 interview:
“Blockadia” is a term that was first coined in the movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas. These are the people who are blocking the fossil fuel projects with their bodies and in the courts and in the streets. And we see these choke-points being developed and people are realizing, “If we block the coal ports in Washington State and Oregon, then there’s no point digging it out in Montana because they’re not going to be able to get the coal shipped out to China. So let’s pour our energy into stopping those coal ports.” And that’s what people have been doing. The same is true of the pipeline fights – and not just against the Keystone Pipeline, but the Northern Gateway Pipeline and others as well.
In the case of pipelines, it’s dramatically lengthened the time needed to plan, permit, and build pipelines, which has cost people jobs and denied local communities economic growth and tax revenue.
But for activists, creating delays isn't enough. In her Politico Magazine piece, Elana Schor, quotes how extreme Klein and her fellow activists are:
“But the French anti-fracking activists have a slogan, ‘Ni ici, ni ailleurs,’ “not here or anywhere,’” the Canadian activist added. “And that’s really the spirit of it. It’s drawing the line. And you often hear that slogan whether people are fighting pipelines or fighting fracking or coal export terminals up and down the Pacific Northwest.”
They don’t want oil, natural gas, or used at all and are abusing the permitting process to do it. This runs counter to the fact that fossil fuels are cheap and abundant. In its Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration expects fossil fuels to be used in about the same proportions for decades to come.eia_energyoutlook2014_energyconsumption_800px.jpg Facebook TweetEnergy Information Administration chart on primary energy consumption: 1980-2040
Unfortunately by disrupting the normal process for approving energy infrastructure projects with endless Keystone XL delays the Obama administration has fed these opposition groups. It’s turned opposition from being NIMBY--Not In My Backyard--to BANANA--Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.
Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy explained the BANANA phenomenon to House Members in 2013:
Indeed, the Keystone XL delay is a symptom of a much bigger and costly problem. Much of our energy infrastructure is increasingly inadequate to meet current and projected demand. Providing energy is a long and capital-intensive undertaking, and new energy infrastructure projects require long lead times and massive amounts—tens of trillions of dollars over the next few decades—of new investment.
Unfortunately, our energy sector suffers from a lengthy, unpredictable, and needlessly complex regulatory maze that delays, and often halts, the construction of new energy infrastructure. Federal and state siting and permitting reviews and rules are used routinely to block the construction and expansion of needed energy infrastructure.
For example, installation of required transmission infrastructure has not kept pace with investments in new power generation; export terminals for both LNG and coal face lengthy approval processes from multiple agencies; and limitations on access to federal onshore and offshore lands in Alaska is challenging the operating capacity of Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of issues created by our shortsighted and complex permitting and regulatory system.
Despite anti-energy obstructionists’ agitation, the public continues to support energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.
The pipeline symbolizes a dysfunctional federal permitting process that must be streamlined. As the U.S. economy continues to recover, it will need ready access to energy. Without adequate and reliable energy infrastructure, sustained growth for our 21st Century economy will be impossible. Jobs will be lost and wages will stagnate.
Another excuse for President Obama to delay deciding on the Keystone XL pipeline bites the dust. Here is what you need to know about a Nebraska court ruling and the fate of the pipeline.
[The ruling reverses] a lower court that had blocked the proposal and clearing the way for a U.S. State Department ruling on the plan.
The court said it was divided and could not reach a substantive decision, leaving in place legislation that favored TransCanada Corp and its claim to build a crude oil pipeline across the state.
The Nebraska legal issue was the latest self-created roadblock the administration has used in its six-plus years of delay in approving the pipeline. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters recently:
There continues to be an outstanding question about the route of the pipeline through one part of Nebraska…. Once that is resolved, that should speed the completion of the evaluation of that project.
The Nebraska Supreme Court has resolved it.
“The Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision removes the last excuse that the Obama administration has been using to justify the unconscionable delays in the permitting process for the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a statement.
The ball goes back to the State Department to determine if the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. In 2010 as one of the five studies were underway, then Secretary Hillary Clinton said the State Department was “inclined” to approve the pipeline. Based on its latest analysis the pipeline will create 42,000 jobs, generate $3.4 billion in economic activity, and produce $55.6 million in local property taxes annually once it’s operating. All of this with little environmental impact.
To any ordinary person, this project is in the national interest, and Secretary John Kerry should approve it.
If the State Department does approve the project, but another agency objects—like EPA, which has been critical—then President Obama makes the final decision.
Harbert wants him to say, “Yes”:
It is time for President Obama to approve the pipeline—no more excuses, no more delays. A strong, bipartisan majority of Americans expect nothing less. Delaying the decision further will only expose this administration to valid accusations of political posturing.
Even as legal questions in Nebraska have been settled, work continues in Congress.
Today, the House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill that would approve construction of the pipeline. Next week, the Senate is expected to begin debate on a similar bill.
Unfortunately the White House reaffirmed its veto threat despite the settlement of the Nebraska question:
Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the President, he will veto the bill.
The administration’s obstruction runs counter to public opinion even in Nebraska, where opponents have focused much of their attention.
A Nebraska poll released in December showed that a 55% of Nebraskans support the pipeline.omaha_world_herald_keystone_poll_122014.jpg Facebook TweetChart: 55% of Nebraskans support the Keystone XL pipeline.
Nationally, even stronger majorities support the pipeline. A December 2014 Fox News poll found nearly 70% support it, and a Pew Research Center poll found majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents back the project.
Either through federal permitting or legislation, the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved. It’s a job-creator, a benefit to state and national economies, has broad support, and will reassure people that it’s possible to build big things in America.
On the first day of taking control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans ran into some trouble:
Democrats managed to put the kibosh on a planned Energy and Natural Resources [ENR] Committee hearing today on Keystone XL, forcing Republicans to cancel the event. Sen. Dick Durbin, on behalf of Barbara Boxer, objected to a GOP floor move seeking unanimous consent to appoint Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell as the leaders of ENR. The appointment was necessary for the move to take place because Democrats do no formally organize until today. Objecting to the UC request prevented the committee from being able to organize in time for today's hearing, which was then scrapped.
While a minor setback, it typifies the many delays and obstacles put in front of the Keystone XL pipeline since permits applications were filed in 2008.
However, as soon as the bill to approve the job-creating, energy infrastructure project was filed in the Senate, the White House threatened to veto it.
The Statement of Administration Policy on the bill states the bill “seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest” and “prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues.”
In other words, the President wants you to believe that there hasn’t been enough time to study the pipeline.
The Keystone XL pipeline has been studied for over six years. Five times, the State Department has issued reports that the project would have minimal impact on the environment.00_energy_keystone_osfc_800px.jpg Oil Sands Fact Check Keystone XL timeline.
The most recent State Department analysis found that along with little environmental impact, the Keystone XL pipeline will create 42,000 jobs, generate $3.4 billion in economic activity, and generate $55.6 million in local property taxes once it’s operating.taxfoundation_keystonexl_propertytaxes.jpg Estimated local property taxes from the Keystone XL pipeline. Source: Tax Foundation.
Reaction to the President’s veto threat was greeted with bipartisan disappointment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY):
I assure you, threatening to veto a jobs and infrastructure bill within minutes of a new Congress taking the oath of office — a bill with strong bipartisan support — is anything but productive.
Bill co-sponsor, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV):
His decision to veto such a commonsense bill prior to the unfolding of regular congressional order and the offering of amendments appears premature and does little to mitigate the congressional gridlock. It is time that we address the critical issues of moving America toward energy independence and fostering job growth and economic prosperity.
By working at a snail’s pace, the administration has turned this project into a mobilization tool for anti-energy activists. It has allowed special interest demagoguery to trump sober policy analysis and made the Keystone XL pipeline a symbol of a dysfunctional federal permitting process. People in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and the rest of America have waited long enough.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board advised Congress to vote to approve the pipeline anyway [subscription required]:
Members of both parties should move ahead despite the veto threat and call his bluff. At least the country will see who is the real obstacle to faster growth and job creation.
Businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs wondering if it’s still possible to build big things in America are watching, labor unions that support the pipeline are watching, and a majority of the public who supports the pipeline is watching.pew_poll_keystonexl_11_2014.png Pew Research Poll on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gets two cheers for her recent comments on hydraulic fracturing.
First, she’s correct that local hydraulic fracturing bans are a bad idea:
“I would say that is the wrong way to go,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told KQED in an exclusive interview. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules.”
Last April, Secretary Jewell told a House Natural Resources Committee that hydraulic fracturing “can be done safely and responsibly.” She joined a list of other federal and state regulators in defending the technology that has powered American’s oil and natural gas boom.
But at the same time, Secretary Jewell’s Interior Department continues work on duplicative hydraulic fracturing rules that will continue to bog down energy development on federal lands.
With volatile oil prices, this is no time for the federal government to pile on unnecessary regulations.CRS_Stat_Oil_800px.png Chart: Oil production on federal lands is declining. CRS_Stat_NatGas_800px.png Chart: Natural gas production on federal lands is declining.