Can We Make a Deal on Keystone XL?

Modern Policy Formulation Flowchart
Modern Policy Formulation Flowchart

Well, no, we probably can’t.  But President Obama might be well advised to try.

Republicans are currently trying to force the White House into approving the pipeline.  Nebraska’s Governor recently flip-flopped and supported Keystone, saying now that he trusts TransCanada to do the necessary environmental work to protect the state’s econoloigcally sensitive Sandhill region.  In response, the State Department has delayed making the decision until March.  All the politics here seem to be about putting the onus on the other guy, which is hardly a recipe for good policy, but seems to be pretty much all the Republicans are capable of doing nowadays.  It’s policy formulation as ping-pong.

Environmentalists hate the project because they fear that allowing the development of tar sands will keep the world hooked on fossil fuels.  There is something to be said for this, but at the end of the day, I fear that just saying no doesn’t move the discussion any further and makes the environmental movement look like Luddites.

Instead, the administration’s policy should be that it will approve Keystone XL if and when a comprehensive climate change policy is in place.  If fossil fuels have to pay the price of the damage that they cause — whether through a carbon tax, some sort of cap-and-trade system, or through a Federal Implementation Policy promulgated by the EPA — then Keystone can and should proceed under the same rules that everyone else has to abide by.

So it’s a clear offer to the Republicans: I will approve Keystone as part of a comprehensive federal climate policy.  If I have to go it alone through authority given to me in the Clean Air Act and Massachusetts v. EPA, then I will.  Of course, we can do this a lot faster through legislation.  The ball is in your court.

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Reader Comments

12 Replies to “Can We Make a Deal on Keystone XL?”

  1. Instead, the administration’s policy should be that it will approve Keystone XL if and when a comprehensive climate change policy is in place.

    I do like that idea, but there is exactly zero evidence that tarsands pipelines are leak-free. So there are two major problems with the pipeline that should be addressed before approval. We still haven’t been remunerated for the last major spill.

  2. Instead, the administration’s policy should be that it will approve Keystone XL if and when a comprehensive climate change policy is in place.

    I do like that idea, but there is exactly zero evidence that tarsands pipelines are leak-free. So there are two major problems with the pipeline that should be addressed before approval. We still haven’t been remunerated for the last major spill.

  3. It may be prudent for Obama for kill Keystone XL in order to demonstrate to us “deniers” that his administration can withstand the economic consequences and political backlash that would surely follow. We will continue to oppose Obama regardless of what he does, so he might as well show us whether or not he has the personal fortitude to fight for his convictions.

  4. It may be prudent for Obama for kill Keystone XL in order to demonstrate to us “deniers” that his administration can withstand the economic consequences and political backlash that would surely follow. We will continue to oppose Obama regardless of what he does, so he might as well show us whether or not he has the personal fortitude to fight for his convictions.

  5. @Jane Winn — That’a a fair point, but I think it somewhat misconstrues what I am saying. The point isn’t that those opposed to Keystone ARE Luddites: the point is that opposition that makes them seem to be Luddites. You can frame it as you have, but you can also frame it as: here we have this new technological ability to get vast amounts of oil from Canada, and you are opposed? That also can seem anti-technological.

  6. @Jane Winn — That’a a fair point, but I think it somewhat misconstrues what I am saying. The point isn’t that those opposed to Keystone ARE Luddites: the point is that opposition that makes them seem to be Luddites. You can frame it as you have, but you can also frame it as: here we have this new technological ability to get vast amounts of oil from Canada, and you are opposed? That also can seem anti-technological.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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