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A political pipeline for the president

| Monday, February 10, 2014

When you’re the president, an opportunity to combine good policy and good politics is like free beer or a complimentary dessert: You don’t pass it up.

President Obama doesn’t have a cold one on the house or some free-of-charge cheesecake waiting on his desk today, but he does have the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. The question now is whether the president will pass up the best opportunity he has seen in years to not only sign off on a policy that will benefit the country, but a plan that will help him politically as well.

The Keystone XL Pipeline, the fourth and final proposed stage of the larger Keystone Pipeline Project, would transport crude oil extracted from the oil sands region in Western Canada and carry it nearly 1,200 miles to southern Nebraska, where it would then be transported to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

The project has the potential to create thousands of construction jobs. Not only does it makes sense in terms of the jobs it could create, but it would lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil, a task that every president over the past quarter century has shared, yet none have really been able to execute.

Environmentalists, a key base of Obama voters in 2008 and 2012, claim this is a make-or-break moment for the president who, just one month into his presidency, stated his commitment to help “save our planet from the ravages of climate change.”
Still, last week’s State Department report confirmed that the construction of Keystone XL will have little-to-no effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

Our warming planet is one of the most serious and immediate issues with which our generation is faced. But when it comes to Keystone XL, the Washington Post editorial board put it best: Environmentalists have drawn “the wrong line in the wrong sand, far away from any realistic assessment of the merits.”

Long story short: Keystone XL’s not good for the planet, but it’s not that bad either. It will give the country access to cheaper fuel while doing nothing to hinder the progress we’re making towards cleaner energy production. It will create jobs and allow the United States to obtain oil from somewhere other than the places where people don’t like us very much.
In terms of sound policy, Keystone XL passes the test. In terms of smart politics, there’s no question Keystone XL does the same.
Virtually every day since Obama took office, we have searched near and far for an issue, any issue, on which Democrats and Republicans could find some common ground.

Immigration? Stalled. A budget deal? Not without a government shutdown first. Health care? Ha, good one.
But an oil pipeline? Just maybe …

Republicans have long favored the project’s completion. Obama’s approval of Keystone XL won’t free Washington from all its gridlock, but it’s a start. It will at least send a signal to the right that the president is willing to work with them on issues that they have prioritized.

In turn, Republicans may be more willing to work with the president who, free from the pressures of reelection, sided with them in the name of good policy and finally put to rest one of the most debated issues of the past few years.
This is to say nothing of the fact that more than half of Americans are in favor of the Pipeline Project, as well as many congressional Democrats. Is that the endangered species of bipartisan agreement poking its head out from the bushes?
If approved, Keystone XL will allow President Obama to put his name next to a major public works project. At a time when many Americans are still uneasy over Obamacare, NSA surveillance and the state of the economy, Obama could use a positive headline or two.

Keystone XL will create jobs and more energy independence.
Keystone XL throws a bone to Republicans while also allowing the president to put his name next to a piece of major infrastructure.

Approval of Keystone XL makes policy sense. It makes political sense. But most of all, it makes too much sense to pass up.

John Sandberg lives in Fisher Hall and is a senior studying political science.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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