The overheated rhetoric over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline grew hotter over the years as the argument for it cooled off. The Obama administration's decision to nix its construction was wise and consequential.
The pipeline carrying particularly dirty tar sands crude oil out of western Canada through the middle of the America to the Gulf of Mexico and into world markets was always of greater potential benefit to Canada than to the United States. It's significant that the new Canadian Prime Minister, Liberal Justin Trudeau, while expressing disappointment, emphasized Canada's continuing strong ties to the US. Mr. Trudeau's environmental bona fides are stronger than those of his Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, whose reaction would have akin to that of overwrought Republicans here at home.
The plan's positives, if they could be called that, were strongly outweighed by the negatives. The claims of job creation were overinflated, and as President Obama observed Friday in announcing the decision, if congressional Republicans were actually serious about job creation they would support a bipartisan infrastructure plan here at home that would potentially create more than 30 times the jobs as the pipeline would while providing actual long-term benefits for the economy. (The president also took the opportunity to plug the latest positive job creation report to come on his watch.)
There was no evidence that the pipeline would lower gas prices for Americans, and in fact, to the dismay of the president's foes, the price of gasoline has dropped an average of 77 cents a gallon over the past year. Contrary to anti-Obama administration propaganda, the US now produces more oil than it imports, a combination of increased oil production at home and a decline in purchases of oil from foreign nations that are alleged allies at best.
The particularly filthy nature of the crude oil Canada is seeking to export worried officials and residents of the politically red states the pipeline would travel through. If Canada wants to go forward with its export plan it can build a pipeline to the Pacific and deal with environmentally destructive leaks if and when they come on their own turf.
Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would have been particularly illogical given the strides the US has made under President Obama to become a leader in clean energy production. Solar and wind power generation are up dramatically and hydropower is demonstrating growing promise. Nuclear energy, which should be part of the equation, has unfortunately lost its constituency because of mishaps and a lack of government leadership.
At this juncture, doubling down on fossil fuels, whose burning is crippling the planet through global warming, would have been indefensible and irresponsible. As the president observed Friday, the conventional wisdom that environmental protection must inevitably come at the cost of economic growth has been proven wrong. That old saw can be thrown on the trash heap along with trickle-down economics.
The administration's decision, which officially came from the office of Secretary of State John Kerry, constitutes a powerful statement as next month's meeting in Paris of world leaders to address global environmental destruction draws near. The concrete evidence of destructive climate change grows stronger by the day, and major offenders like China have come to grudgingly acknowledge the error of their ways and the need to reform. There is an actual chance of progress, one that cannot be squandered as have so many others over the years.
The Keystone XL pipeline will live on as a political football booted around by the far-right, one of so many issues that exist only to divide and sow dissent. Like crude oil in the forest it will continue to pollute the public discourse. But for reasons both practical and symbolic, the pipeline's demise is good for the nation and for the planet.