Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's time to approve Keystone pipeline

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U.S. President Barack Obama's push to put a new emphasis on curbing greenhouse gas emissions had the feel of wishful thinking. He knows that Congress has little interest in the effort, so he plans to focus on what he can do by Environmental Protection Agency rule-making. The exercise of such regulatory power tends to be a slow grind through government bureaucracy, though, and he may not be able to get much of his agenda accomplished before his term ends.

One bit of his speech last week, though, held out the prospect of imminent impact. The president said he would allow the Keystone XL oil pipeline to be built "only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

That set off lots of speculation: Is Obama signalling thumbs up or thumbs down?

We're going to be optimistic and take it as a sign that he may soon approve the pipeline.

The State Department, which is charged with evaluating the Keystone project because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border, has already made an early determination on the pollution impact. The agency said in a draft review released in March that Keystone would "not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects." In May, the department posted the first of more a million public comments responding to its report. It continues to review the application and reportedly will wrap up in time for an announcement in the fall.

The 2,000-page draft report shows, convincingly, that the president's condition has been satisfied. The case is ready to be closed. Let's start putting people to work laying pipe.

On the day Obama announced his climate policy, a report produced by order of Congress debunked one of the complaints about Keystone. Oil from the Canada tarsands that would be carried in the Keystone pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico is no more likely than other crude oil to cause pipeline failure. That report, from the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, was compiled and reviewed by dozens of the nation's most credible scientists.

Last year, Obama stalled a final decision on Keystone. The president needlessly damaged relations with key trading partner Canada and missed the opportunity to put people to work.

In the meantime, the developers have worked to answer concerns about the project. Keystone opponents claimed the pipeline would leak into groundwater, compromising the giant Ogallala Aquifer. The fears were unfounded, but the developers rerouted the pipeline footprint around the aquifer.

Pipelines generally are a safer way to transport fuel than the trains and tanker trucks used instead. Pipelines already criss-cross the Midwest. Keystone would be one of the most secure -- with state-of-the-art safeguards that have been upgraded to the point of overkill as the company seeks to put fears to rest.

The Canadian tarsands will be tapped with or without Keystone, and they will contribute less to carbon pollution than many other common energy sources.

The Keystone pipeline will be a boost for the U.S. economy. Time to approve it.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 A11

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