TransCanada Corp.’s revised proposal to the State of Nebraska on the Keystone XL Pipeline is welcome. The reasons that make its continuing progress likely – through Washington, D.C., as well as Nebraska – may be partly based on crass electoral considerations, but sometimes bad politics can make for good policy.
Construction on the Keystone XL will not start before 2013, but TransCanada’s refiling is particularly topical, at a time of high gasoline prices and the crude-oil traffic jam further south on the pipeline route, at Cushing, Okla.
There are two layers of environmental regulation in question. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality will report on TransCanada’s new route to the Governor, David Heineman, a Republican, for his approval (or not). But the State Department – in effect, the Obama administration – will also have to consent, because the Keystone XL would cross an international boundary, from Canada into the U.S.
In January, Barack Obama declined to give prompt approval to TransCanada’s previous plan. That effectively postponed the matter until after the presidential election. This decision was well received by environmentalist groups in the U.S., who generally favour the Democrats; naturally, the donors to the party and to the environmental movement overlap.
Now that the Republicans – whose members of Congress strongly favour Keystone XL – have settled on a viable presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign has to win over potential Republican voters; the centre-left has no choice but to vote for Mr. Obama. The Democrats need to show they care about relieving the upward pressure on gasoline prices.
TransCanada’s new plan avoids a sensitive area called the Sand Hills, according to boundaries defined by the state government. Some Nebraskans argue that the area is wider. And the route’s proximity to the underlying water-bearing Ogallala Formation ranges from about five to 150 feet below ground. The state and federal governments should of course approach their duties to assess the project seriously. But it will be good news for Canada if this much-needed route for this country’s oil exports is approved, sooner rather than later.