Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Keystone XL: Those Who Hesitate Will Lose

By Jared SiegelPublished October 21, 2014

The Obama administration's attempt to avoid making an unpopular political decision caused the United States to miss an extraordinary economic opportunity.

By Jared Siegel, 10/21/2014

     The issue of whether or not to build the Keystone XL pipeline has been a hotbed political and environmental issue over the last several years. The Keystone XL pipeline is a 2,151-mile pipeline set to span from the forests of northern Alberta, Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Congress and the President have stalled the multi-billion dollar project. Although the pipeline is projected to create over 138,000 U.S. jobs and rake in billions in tax revenue, environmental groups continue to adamantly oppose it. Twice as many Americans support the construction of the pipeline as do oppose it, but the decision of whether or not to build it could affect 4 different midterm senate races, including in Nebraska where farmers protest the pipeline running through their fields and over their water sources. In an attempt not to alienate voters on both sides of the issue in the states affected by the construction of the pipeline, Obama has postponed his commitment to the pipeline. Last year, at a speech at Georgetown University, Obama said he would not approve Keystone XL if it would substantially increase carbon dioxide emissions.

     This past week, crushing news arrived to the U.S., when Canada committed to circumventing Keystone XL and building the Energy East pipeline. The 2,858-mile pipeline will transport the crude oil from Alberta to the Atlantic and enable Canada to export its oil to a far more diverse market, including to India and Russia, as opposed to only the United States.

     This debacle should enrage Americans on both sides of the issue. Energy East's carbon emissions will most likely be similar to that of Keystone XL's, which will stir environmental activists. Those who realized the possible economic benefits that were squandered will be outraged. Perhaps most upsetting is that the building of an alternate pipeline was inevitable. Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations said, "It's always been clear that denying it or slowing Keystone wasn't going to stop the flow of Canadian oil." Politics and an attempt to walk the fine line without making an unpopular decision ultimately led the Obama administration to miss a great economic opportunity and to alienate our largest trading partner. "The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision," Maimonides, the famous medieval philosopher, once said. We need leaders who will learn the facts and ultimately commit to a course of action. Stalling and avoiding tough decisions is not a sustainable course of action to carry America into the future.