After several years, the Obama administration has rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline. In denying the application, President Obama said that it was not in our national interest. He cited three main reasons that the pipeline would not benefit the United States: 1) that it wouldn’t lead to long-term jobs, 2) that it would not lower gas prices and 3) that it would not increase our “energy security.”
For the sake of argument, I’ll concede that he is correct that the Keystone XL pipeline would yield only small benefits. This isn’t reason enough reason to reject it, though. The government is not being asked to construct the pipeline. It’s only being asked to approve the application by a private Canadian company. The reason that the government is involved is because the pipeline would cross the border. This is why the State Department, rather than say the EPA or the Department of Energy, was in charge of the review process.
In order to reject the pipeline, one should have to cite actual harms to the United States. Not only did Obama not mention any real harms in his announcement, he actually said that it was not “the express lane to climate disaster.” He’s right on that point.
The Economist notes that the Keystone XL pipeline “would have carried 830,000 barrels of oil a day,” but thirty-one pipelines already carry around three million barrels a day from Canada. In fact, Keystone XL is really just the fourth phase of an already existing set of pipelines. Furthermore, the remaining oil “will be carried by rail,” which does not need State Department approval, but is “more dangerous, dirtier and more expensive.”
One possible benefit of rejecting the pipeline is that the tar-sands oil it carries emits about twenty percent more carbon when burned. Rejecting the pipeline would make production of tar-sands oil less lucrative. However, the rejection of the pipeline would still only stall the production of tar-sands oil. Canada’s oil producers still have every intention of producing oil from the tar-sands of Alberta. Also, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, supported the Keystone XL pipeline and supports the use of other pipelines as well. The oil will still be developed, it’s just a matter of Canadians figuring out what to do with it.
Based on this evidence, the actual harms of the Keystone XL pipeline are minimal. The benefits may be small, but so are the harms. If the harms outweighed the benefits, President Obama would be right to reject TransCanada’s application, but that wasn’t the case. He simply said it’s not all that beneficial.
In deciding whether or not to deny the actions of private parties, the government should have to prove actual net harm. The question should have been “will allowing TransCanada to build an addition to an already existing pipeline harm our national interest?”
In this case, Obama seemed to want there to be proof of substantial benefits and the advancement of our national interests. If this sort of reasoning were applied to other areas of life, many harmless things would be rejected simply because the benefits aren’t that large.
Luckily, we generally don’t need to ask the president’s permission to see if our private actions are “in the national interest.”