Charles Krauthammer

Stop kicking Canada around on Keystone XL pipeline decision

Updated: 2014-01-29T01:25:57Z

By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

The Washington Post

Fixated as we Americans are on Canada’s three most attention-getting exports — polar vortexes, Alberta clippers and the antics of Toronto’s addled mayor —we’ve somewhat overlooked a major feature of Canada’s current relations with the United States: extreme annoyance.

Last week, speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s foreign minister calmly but pointedly complained that the U.S. owes Canada a response on the Keystone XL pipeline. “We can’t continue in this state of limbo,” he sort of complained, in what for a placid, imperturbable Canadian passes for an explosion of volcanic rage.

Canadians may be preternaturally measured and polite, but they simply can’t believe how they’ve been treated by President Barack Obama — left hanging humiliatingly on an issue whose merits were settled years ago.

Canada, the Saudi Arabia of oil sands, is committed to developing this priceless resource. Its natural export partner is the United States. But crossing the border requires State Department approval, which means the president decides yes or no.

After three years of review, the State Department found no significant environmental risk to Keystone. Nonetheless, the original route was changed to assuage concerns regarding the Ogallala Aquifer. Obama withheld approval through the 2012 election. To this day he has issued no decision.

The Canadians are beside themselves. After five years of manufactured delay, they need a decision because if denied a pipeline south, they could build a pipeline west to the Pacific. China would buy their oil in a New York minute.

Yet John Kerry fumblingly says he is awaiting yet another environmental report.

If Obama wants to cave to his environmental left, go ahead. But why keep Canada in limbo? It’s a show of supreme disrespect for yet another ally.

And for what? This is not a close call.

Even if you swallow everything the environmentalists tell you about oil sands, the idea that blocking Keystone will prevent their development by Canada is ridiculous. Canada sees its oil sands as a natural bounty and key strategic asset. Canada will not leave it in the ground.

Where’s the environmental gain in blocking Keystone? The oil will be produced and the oil will be burned. If it goes to China, the Pacific pipeline will carry the same environmental risks as a U.S. pipeline.

And Alberta oil can still go to the U.S., if not by pipeline then by rail, which requires no State Department approval. That would result in far more greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, rail can be exceedingly dangerous. Last year a tanker train derailed and exploded en route through Quebec. The fireball destroyed half of downtown Lac-Megantic, killing 47, many incinerated beyond recognition.

Add to this the slam-dunk strategic case for Keystone: Canadian oil reduces our dependence on the volatile Middle East.

Keystone has left Canada upset, though characteristically relatively quiet. Canadians may have succeeded in sublimating every ounce of normal human hostility and unpleasantness by way of hockey fights, but that doesn’t mean we should take advantage of their good manners.

The only rationale for denying the pipeline is political — to appease Obama’s more extreme environmentalists. Here is an easily available piece of infrastructure — privately built, costing government not a penny, creating thousands of jobs and shovel ready — and yet the president, who has been incessantly pushing new “infrastructure” as a fundamental economic necessity, can’t say yes.

Well then, Mr. President, say something. You owe Canada that. Up or down. Five years is long enough.

To reach Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, send email to letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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