A decision not to make a decision mocks the principle of good government. To its shame, that is what the Obama Administration did in extending its review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The State Department said last week that federal agencies will take more time to consider the controversial pipeline plan. The ostensible reason was the uncertainty caused by a judge’s ruling that overturned a Nebraska law allowing the pipeline to be built in the state.
But it’s hard not to see the dead hand of politics, effectively allowing this year’s congressional elections to pass by without the administration taking a stand. Although the Nebraska Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal of the ruling until September or October, with perhaps more legal maneuvering to follow, Americans should be told of the administration’s position.
Now they won’t get a chance, as controversy trumps democracy. Whichever way it decides, the administration will please some and infuriate others. If it is built, the 1,700-mile pipeline would allow Canada to export oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast.
Like other environmentally charged issues, this plan has become a symbolic battle that pits jobs and energy independence against environmental concerns and the need to combat global warming.
Unfortunately, the environmental argument doesn’t fit into a neat box. This year, the State Department issued a final environmental impact statement that said building the pipeline would not “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution.
Even if the pipeline is blocked, the oil still will be extracted and shipped to customers such as China. Or it will be taken by rail car into the United States, a mode of moving oil that has been fraught with environmental risk.
With pipelines already crisscrossing the nation, it is unrealistic to treat another as a disaster in the making. On balance, the administration should support the long-delayed plan to build the Keystone pipeline.
Either way, President Obama and his top officials owe everybody an answer — Canada, the oil industry, and environmentalists, but most of all voters. Delay is not leadership.