Seven years later, Keystone XL decision is due

How’s this for American exceptionalism: It has now officially taken longer for the federal government to review the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit application than it did to build the entire transcontinental railroad 150 years ago.

Yes, you read that right. Today marks the seven-year anniversary of what has become one of the most embarrassing examples of bureaucratic red tape in American history.

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You’ve no doubt heard of the Keystone XL pipeline by now. On September 19, 2008, the company planning to build it filed a routine permit application with the State Department. The pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels of oil from Canada and North Dakota’s Bakken Formation to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Along with this oil would flow economic growth, well-paying jobs, and lower energy prices—all with essentially zero environmental downsides, to boot.

Yet 2,556 days, 17,000 pages of scientific research, and myriad legal challenges later, Americans are still waiting for the Obama administration to decide. Rarely will you see a more obvious case of bureaucratic incompetence—and it’s holding up an economic and environmental no-brainer.

Consider the economic opportunity this $5.4 billion pipeline presents. The Canadian Economic Research Institute estimates it could add $172 billion in U.S. economic growth over 25 years. Meanwhile, President Obama’s own U.S. State Department estimates construction would support over 42,000 jobs. Nearly 10,000 would be skilled—aka, well-paying—jobs like steel welders, pipefitters, electricians, and heavy equipment operators.

There’s also the potential for gas prices to go even lower than they are today. According to a February 2015 report from IHS, a leading energy research firm, the “vast majority” of Keystone XL’s refined oil will stay right here in the U.S. In other words, it could further add to America’s surging oil supply that has sent gas prices plummeting over the past year.

Given these benefits, it’s unsurprising that Americans support Keystone XL’s construction by a ratio of two-to-one, according to a CNN/ORC poll released in January. It has also drawn support from some of the nation’s unlikeliest of bedfellows: the business-backed U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the labor confederation AFL-CIO.

The benefits are there for all to see, which explains why Congress has done everything it can to make Keystone a reality. On January 29 of this year, legislators finally passed a bill approving the pipeline’s construction and sent it to Obama’s desk. It was the first bill passed by the new Congress and enjoyed strong bipartisan support in both the U.S. Senate and House.

Yet 26 days later, Obama vetoed it. In so doing, he also vetoed the $172 billion in economic growth, 42,000 well-paying jobs, and lower energy prices that could come along with it.

In his veto statement, Obama echoed the arguments of anti-energy activists that Keystone XL poses a threat to the environment. Yet as study after study has shown, these arguments couldn’t be further from the truth.

Environmental opposition to Keystone XL is based on the belief that without the pipeline, the Canadian and North Dakotan oil would stay in the ground. But this is wishful thinking at best. As we are already seeing, it will simply be shipped via rail instead. Even Obama’s own State Department admits as much. In its Final Environmental Impact Statement last year—the product of years of investigations involving eight federal agencies—federal officials noted Keystone XL “is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas.”

Given this reality, the State Department concluded Keystone XL’s construction would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions. Put another way: It wouldn’t harm the environment.

Considering the economic opportunities and negligible environmental impacts of Keystone XL, why wouldn’t Obama allow its benefits to flow into the U.S.? This is especially so when you consider pipelines—particularly new, state-of-the-art ones like Keystone XL—are the safest mode of transportation. Ensuring we’re using the safest and most efficient methods possible only makes sense.

Even if Obama ultimately rejects the Keystone XL pipeline—and with it, billions of dollars in economic growth and thousands of new jobs—it’s past time for a decision. It wasn’t so long ago that American exceptionalism went hand in hand with economic growth. The only thing exceptional about this depressing situation is how the can-do determination of 19th and 20th century America has given way to the bureaucratic dysfunction of the 21st.

Luke Hilgemann is the CEO of Americans for Prosperity.