This weekend the Super Bowl will be played between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Imagine if the rules of the game were to change at halftime. What if the field was suddenly extended in the middle of one team's drive? It would be impossible to play a game when the rules change on the fly.
While our legal system is not a game, we have to maintain consistent laws and regulations in order for companies to safely make investments. The stability of our rules and regulations has a direct affect on economic growth.
Congress has established laws governing the process for constructing oil and gas pipelines. For years, these rules consistently governed this industry. Companies who did their due diligence in submitting safe designs and preparing for contingencies were awarded approval.
In the case of pipelines that cross an international border, the U.S. State Department is responsible for approving the project. TransCanada Corporation first proposed the Keystone pipeline in 2005. By 2008, the project was approved by the State Department and it became operational in 2010.
In 2009, TransCanada proposed an extension of the project that would connect the Canadian oil sands with U.S. refineries in Texas. The State Department again reviewed the project and was about the release their final approval in the fall of 2011 when President Obama intervened at the demand of his environmentalist allies.
There was nothing unusual about the State Department's review. In fact, while most reviews take 18 to 24 months, they had already been investigating Keystone XL for 40 months. With President Obama's intervention the goal posts moved even further back.
Not building the pipeline doesn't mean that Canada isn't shipping oil to the U.S. Right now, much of this oil is being shipped in railroad cars and barges. While environmentalists attack the safety of a pipeline, they ignore the fact that pipelines are actually the safest way to transport oil. Spills and other incidents are far more common in other forms of transit.
Just last year, Congress passed a new law to make pipelines even safer. President Obama signed the bipartisan Pipeline Safety Act, which requires new safety devices and substantially increases fines for safety violations.
Opponents of the pipeline had latched onto the objections of some landowners in Nebraska. Now, the state government has agreed on a new route for the pipeline that addresses the concerns of farmers and avoids an environmentally sensitive area.
The State Department should have concluded its additional review by this spring, but now there is word that it may not end until the summer. The goal posts just keep moving back.
Ironically, the environmentalists may be pushing Canada to choose a less environmentally safe route to export its oil. Other pipeline companies are working on competing pipelines to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. From there, oil could be put onto ships and transported to Asian nations or to Texas through the Gulf of Mexico.
Shipping oil via tanker is far more risky than using a pipeline. Additionally, China and other Asian nations lack strong refining regulations. Oil refineries in the U.S. are safer and have much lower emissions.
Keystone XL is safer, more environmentally friendly, and creates American jobs. More than 20,000 jobs could be directly created by construction of the pipeline. Indirectly, this could mean 100,000 more jobs. That's almost as many jobs as our entire economy has been creating in a single month.
Right now, we are getting much of our oil from Venezuela and the Middle East. With the South American strong man ailing, and the Arab Spring continuing to rock Middle Eastern nations, why should we count on them for a commodity that is critical to our economic growth?
We can be North America energy independent in just a few years. That would make us more secure and economically stable. What we need to make this happen is consistent regulations.
Just as it would be difficult to play football with changing rules and moving goal posts, it is hard for companies to invest in job-creating projects when the regulations aren't consistent. President Obama needs to stop playing politics and let the State Department finish its work.