One of the toughest decisions President Obama faces in his quest to make curbing greenhouse gases a part of his legacy has gotten easier. A final environmental impact statement by the State Department concludes that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution.
The President said last year that he might approve the controversial 1,700-mile pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” the problem — a standard that would seem to be met. The next step belongs to Secretary of State John Kerry, who must recommend a course of action to Mr. Obama.
The administration owes everybody a decision. It is long overdue. Canada, which wants to export oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is frustrated. Environmentalists and petroleum interests are also anxious.
The environmental position puts Mr. Obama in a great quandary. Just because the report says the pipeline doesn’t worsen the carbon pollution problem much, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
He wants to wean the nation off fossil fuels, but he is being asked to facilitate their greater use, via an energy-intensive extraction process.
A refusal to build the pipeline would not do much to curb global warming. The crude oil is going to be extracted and used, either bought by China or shipped by rail to the United States.
While environmentalists fret about the threat of pipeline ruptures, oil pipelines already cross the country without most Americans noticing. Not so tanker trains, which have threatened or caused environmental catastrophes recently, some in highly populated areas.
No matter what it decides, the Obama Administration will face criticism. The right decision, although admittedly a tough one, is to approve the pipeline.
The nation’s interests would be served by further reducing America’s dependence on Middle East oil, and by the creation of 1,950 construction jobs to build the project over two years.
As for climate change, this issue presents a special case. Mr. Obama can heed St. Augustine, who famously prayed for the Lord to make him chaste — but not yet.