LONG OVERDUE: Regulators Should Clarify Keystone XL Approval

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Craig Stevens Former Advisor to Energy Secretary Bodman
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After nearly a decade of legal limbo and political gamesmanship, Nebraska regulators voted last week to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. The vote moves the project one step closer to ending a years-long impasse that reached the highest levels of government.

Taken at face value, the decision deserves a lot of credit. It lays the groundwork for TransCanada, the project’s builder, to finally complete development and begin construction of the energy transportation line, which will contribute $3.4 billion to the U.S. economy. Once in operation, Keystone XL will reduce reliance on more volatile overland shipping methods and reduce greenhouse emissions by as much as 19 million metric tons by offsetting some 200 ocean tankers each year.

Unfortunately, the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s approval leaves a lot of uncertainty. The ruling authorizes an alternative route to that originally proposed by TransCanada, which underwent extensive federal and state reviews over the past several years. The new route will require at least 400 more easements to be acquired and could add $1 billion in new costs.

Perhaps most alarming about requiring a new route, however, is the invitation it sends to environmental groups to repurpose old arguments that have been settled. From the courts to the media, these activists have made clear that nothing is off limits when it comes to derailing Keystone XL, no matter how misinformed. Their arguments were discredited time and time again before by evidence. Yet, with a newly proposed route, these obstructionists will no doubt resurrect the same old attacks like a coda to a bad movie.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is too important for regulators to leave the door open to more of this kind of senseless stonewalling. Aside from the tangible benefits put on hold and the opportunity costs exacted by further delay, public officials risk inviting violence and lawlessness. Demonstrations along the Dakota Access Pipeline show how easily supposed peaceful protests can spiral into destructiveness. There, the damages are well documented: destruction, vandalism and millions of dollars to clean up the mess.

Hopefully, the Keystone XL Pipeline won’t experience the same senseless chaos. To that end, it is imperative regulators clarify the requirements of the route, and that they stick with the rules set forth. They must deal in absolutes and leave no room for obfuscation by opponents. Otherwise, they risk losing this critical development and the benefits it promises, and, possibly worse, setting a dangerous precedent for future infrastructure projects.

Conversely, if regulators are sincere in their approval of the new route and show the political courage to deal strictly in reality, they have an opportunity in the Keystone XL Pipeline to bolster the United States energy security. The 36-inch diameter, 1,179-mile line will move as much as 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day to domestic refineries. That will create reliable access to affordable fuels and further sustain the United States’ transition to a net-energy supplier.

The Keystone XL Pipeline also provides a valuable tool for U.S. officials to bolster relations with our neighbors to the north. One of the United States strongest allies, Canada shares an interest in the safe completion and long-term success of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Once operational the line will open new avenues of trade, which will foster cooperation across a broad range of diplomatic issues. Considering the instability in every corner of the globe, the partnership that the Keystone XL Pipeline will cultivate cannot be overstated.

If they are dealing honestly, environmental groups have every reason to support the Keystone XL Pipeline’s completion. Under every scenario, the line will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it will position both the United States and Canada to better address climate realities. Clean-burning fossil fuels, and emerging technologies making them even cleaner, are reducing carbon emissions. This progress is the result of concerted efforts among the public and private sectors to improve energy production and consumption.

A vote by regulators to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline was a step in the right direction. It demonstrates a willingness to consider U.S. infrastructure based on merit and fact, and should put to rest the long debate cost countless communities significantly. Nebraska’s Public Service Commission must now move quickly to set clear guidelines for the new route, and stick with those once established. By doing so, they will help bolster the United States’ energy security through a project that is long overdue.

Craig Stevens is the spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments. Follow the Coalition on Twitter @GAINNowAmerica.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.