Politics, outdated permit process threaten future investment in US

On its own, the Keystone XL oil pipeline is an important project. It would fill a critical infrastructure need by providing a safe, reliable way to transport oil from Canada and the Bakken region in the United States to refineries in the Midwest and the Gulf region.

But thanks to the extreme politicization of the review process by the Obama administration and its allies, the coming decision on Keystone XL will be about much more than just a pipeline. It will have far-reaching implications on the relationship between the United States and its top trading partner, Canada, as well as on future capital investments in our economy from around the world.

It didn’t have to be this way—and it didn’t used to be in America. In the same amount of time that the Keystone XL pipeline application has been under review, the Hoover Dam, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Empire State Building were built — a clear indicator of how cumbersome political today’s permitting process has become.

This epidemic plagues not just Keystone but virtually every major infrastructure project. From BANANA syndrome — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone — to NOPE — Not on Planet Earth — all forms of American energy are now suffering.

That’s why we at the Energy Institute have proposed significant changes to our permitting process as part of our Energy Works for US platform, designed to help America take advantage of the energy revolution.

On Jan. 31, the Keystone XL application cleared a significant hurdle — again. The State Department issued its latest Environmental Impact Statement, and as expected, the results were positive. The State Department’s analysis shows that Canadian oil sands will continue to be developed regardless of whether the pipeline is built. The real question is whether oil flows to the United States, where it will displace oil currently being imported from unfriendly nations, or whether it goes elsewhere.

Despite the positive reviews, the wait could be far from over. The project now shifts into a subjective phase of review during which the administration, starting with Secretary of State John Kerry or his designee, determines whether building the pipeline is in the national interest.

The State Department has given no timeline for when the decision will actually be made, meaning that we could once again find ourselves in an endless delay.

When the secretary does begin his review of Keystone XL, he’ll find a compelling case for construction. His decision is whether building Keystone XL is in America’s national interest. The facts clearly tell us that it is.

For starters, Keystone XL would add stable energy from a reliable source to our supply, both safely and efficiently. This project is likely the most studied infrastructure project in our history. The State Department has studied the project for nearly 2,000 days and issued five reports, reaching the conclusion that the pipeline poses minimal environmental risk. Though many activists believe that blocking Keystone XL will halt development of oil sands, the department’s analysis makes it clear that Canada will develop those resources with or without the pipeline, making the concerns about oil sands — many of which are erroneous to begin with — irrelevant.

The Keystone XL pipeline will also create American jobs. In several interviews, President Obama has dismissed the jobs created by Keystone XL, but he should read his own administration’s analysis. According to the State Department, building the pipeline would create more than 42,000 new jobs while adding $3.4 billion to the economy. In addition, Keystone XL would generate more than $5.2 billion in property taxes for communities on the route, pumping cash into state and city coffers for schools, law enforcement and local projects.

Kerry should also be concerned about the chilling effect that denying the pipeline will have on investment in America — and especially our relationship with Canada. More than $600 billion in goods are traded between the U.S. and Canada each year, and Canada is America’s largest export market. But just as foreign investors have options besides the U.S for their investment, Canada has options for its oil beyond our market.

As each day passes by, the Keystone XL pipeline project stands as a giant red flag to anyone seeking to do business with our country, and other nations are lining up to be the recipients of Canadian oil.

There’s a reason why public opinion polls show that between 60 and 70 percent of Americas support building Keystone. Our citizens know that it is in our national interest. Now is the time for our government to make that designation and allow this project to move forward.

Harbert is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.