Posted on January 22, 2012




Confronted with an arbitrary congressional mandate to rush a decision on the controversial Keystone oil pipeline, President Obama made the only responsible call. At least for now, he says, the answer is “No.”

There are just too many unresolved questions about the toll the project will inflict on the environment. It will take far more than the short 60-day limit Congress irresponsibly imposed for deciding whether some version of the project can be done without inflicting unacceptable and irreversible damage.

The pipeline developer, TransCanada, has already agreed to look for a new route in Nebraska. Intense opposition  here, including from the state’s Republican governor, demanded that the project stay out of the ecologically vulnerable Sandhill region. A pipeline leak could contaminate the enormous Ogallala aquifer, an underground reservoir that irrigates $20 billion a year’s worth of agriculture from Texas to the Dakotas.

The 60-day limit for deciding on Keystone was the price Republicans in Congress demanded for a two-month extension of President Obama’s payroll-tax break. And this week the Republican House of Representatives pushed the president for a decision on issuing Trans Canada a permit to proceed with the pipeline. It was cynical, political gamesmanship designed to hurt the president by forcing him to choose between two powerful constituencies,  unions and environmentalists.

President Obama has long contended we as a nation don’t have to chose between clean environment and a strong economy with good jobs. The Keystone pipeline is a huge test of that premise.

Whether the nation can find a responsible way forward on the project is a question which needs much careful study.

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