The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Hillary, Politics and The Pipeline

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 23, 2015

At some point during the past seven years the Keystone XL pipeline ceased to exist only as an important project of energy infrastructure – one that could generate jobs, economic growth and strengthen U.S. energy security – and became a symbol for a narrow ideological agenda, a political football the White House has endlessly punted around to suit its own political needs. Little surprise, then, that Hillary Clinton has decided to join in the KXL kicking.

In a post for Medium, Clinton called Canadian oil sands North America’s “dirtiest fuel” – despite the fact that during her leadership the U.S. State Department approved a cross-border permit for another oil sands pipeline in 2009, with the department determining that the “addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States.” Clinton also called Keystone XL a “distraction from the real challenges facing our energy sector — and the job-creating investments that we should be making to meet them.”

One more point: Clinton voiced her Keystone XL opposition as the pope arrived in Washington, D.C. – no doubt an attempt to avoid in-depth coverage of her position because Clinton well knows the American people disagree with it.

The underlying point in this latest Keystone XL episode (repeated throughout the Keystone XL story) is that the national interest – as defined by jobs, economic benefits, secure energy and national security – is shunted aside by political interest. While not agreeing with everything in this piece by the Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg, it’s spot-on in noting that Clinton didn’t base her opposition on climate concerns “because the pipeline is unlikely to have much of an impact on the climate one way or another in the long run, according to the State Department and independent analysts.” Stromberg:

So what will be the impact of accepting — or rejecting — Keystone XL? The Council on Foreign Relations’ Michael Levi explained the real stakes earlier this year: “A Keystone XL decision will have much larger consequences for U.S. politics, U.S.-Canada relations, and perhaps the broader rules-based global trading system than it will for climate change or the economy — and that’s where serious decision-makers ought to mostly focus.” Clinton is unquestionably a serious decision-maker. But on every score Levi described, she’s made the wrong choice. U.S. politics hardly need more base-oriented pandering. If she were president, moreover, Clinton’s opposition would hardly help cultivate cooperation on trade and cross-border regulation with Canada. And the opposition would undermine the notion that countries should treat each other’s companies fairly, according to predictable regulatory procedures rather than the fickle fancies of politically influential domestic constituencies.

Keystone XL continues to illustrate the triumph of politics over national interest and national will. A recent poll showed 68 percent of American voters favor building the pipeline – surely, because the vast majority of Americans understand the benefits to the nation that likely would result from building the pipeline.

Following the White House’s lead, Clinton dismisses consistent, solid public support for Keystone XL and casts off the pipeline’s strategic value to the United States – for politics. TransCanada’s Shawn Howard:

“The fundamental argument for Keystone XL has been and remains: The U.S. imports millions of barrels of oil every day, so where do Americans want their oil to come from?  Do they want it from Iran and Venezuela – where American values of freedom and democracy are not shared – or do they want Canadian and American crude oil transported through Keystone XL? We have always believed the answer is clear, and the clear choice is Keystone XL.”

As Stromberg pointed out, the collateral damage is harm to the U.S. relationship with Canada and the principles of free trade, as well as negative effect on private infrastructure investment caused by fickleness. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“Hillary Clinton’s decision to oppose Keystone is a missed opportunity to seize the true potential of our energy renaissance. It is most unfortunate for American workers and consumers that she has joined the forces of delay and denial. The years of indecision by this White House on this project are mindboggling. Who thought seven years ago when the Keystone permit was first initiated that 2016 presidential candidates would be weighing in on KXL? Instead of embracing our neighbor to the north, this administration continues to snub Canada and turns a deaf ear to our other allies who have appealed to the U.S. to move more oil onto the global markets. How can the administration advocate a deal that would help Iranian oil producers but not do the same for U.S. and Canadian producers? This is not how you harness America’s economic and diplomatic potential.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.