Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest

In his recent speech on climate at Georgetown University, President Obama provided the clearest insight yet into the factors he’s taking into consideration as he decides the fate of the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline.

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” said the president. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

His carefully crafted comments left a lot of very smart people on both sides of the Keystone debate parsing his words and reading between the lines. Keystone opponents are interpreting the remarks as a clear indication he’ll reject the project; proponents, on the other hand, view it as a clear sign he intends to approve the proposed pipeline.

I believe the president will ultimately approve the Keystone proposal, not only because it passes his litmus test of not “significantly exacerbating the problem of carbon pollution,” but also because this important private-sector infrastructure investment will create jobs while making the U.S. more energy independent.

Last March, the Department of State grappled with the same questions the president asked Tuesday. It examined whether construction of the pipeline would lead to the release of more greenhouse gases, and it concluded in its draft environmental impact statement that with or without a new pipeline, Canadian oil sands development is moving ahead. If oil sands don’t come to the United States, they will most certainly make their way to Asia. If bitumen isn’t transported by pipeline, it will move by rail.

Few if any national infrastructure projects have endured the level of scrutiny accorded to Keystone XL. Since the first Keystone application was submitted in 2008, opponents of the project have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at the proposal, in an effort to raise doubts about the safety of pipeline transport.

One of the most oft-repeated arguments made against the pipeline had been that bitumen itself is highly corrosive, making it more likely that oil transported through the Keystone XL pipeline could leak or spill. That argument, like many before them, was laid to rest this week when a report from the National Research Council concluded that diluted bitumen isn’t any more corrosive than conventional crude oil, nor is it more likely to produce pipeline spills.

The president should be applauded for boldly leading on climate change. There are important battles worth fighting. But Keystone XL is not one of them.

Seven in 10 Americans believe the project is in the national interest. And the facts, in terms of science, engineering, safety and economics, make a compelling case in favor of approval.

Ford is a former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, serving from 1997 to 2007.