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A plea for Obama to build the pipeline

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Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014

What are we waiting for? The Keystone Pipeline issue couldn't be clearer. Build it! Build it yesterday.

Forty-two thousand jobs are waiting in the wings, including 9,000 in construction. That's $2 billion in personal incomes and at least that much more in sales of steel pipe, valves, pumps and related gear, plus tax revenues for dozens of counties along the route and a guesstimated $3.4 billion boost to Gross Domestic Product.

All this and popularity too. Poll after poll shows 65-odd percent of Americans in favor of this big inch-step toward energy independence.

Should be an easy stroke of the pen for President Obama, you'd think.

But despite frustration with years of studying the country's largest impending infrastructure project, the forces in favor, including labor unions, can't seem to work up the passion of the forces against.

Environmentalists see Keystone as a milestone on Doomsday Road. It will leak and poison groundwater, they say, and at the least encourage driving with notably “dirty” oil, spewing greenhouse gases that warm the Earth and intensify weather disasters.

Weren't 280 candlelight vigils recently held in 49 states as if the planet's very life or death hung in the balance?

All this to head off economic temptation: 875 miles of rolled and welded steel to carry crude from the oil sands of western Canada to a spot on the map in Nebraska. From there it's hundreds of miles more, but in pipe already laid, to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. A 1,700-mile project all told.

The president is on record to approve if Keystone doesn't “significantly exacerbate” Earth's climate problem.

The State Department gave him perfect case-closed on Jan. 31.

It issued a huge report (11 volumes) which, boiled down, said we can live with this heavy oil, though it does emit more carbon than average. But somebody somewhere is going to buy it and burn it. (China, anyone?) Consuming the pipeline's 800,000 daily barrels might equate to adding six coal-fired electric plants to the nation's power grid. Environmentalists immediately jumped on the report's methodology and integrity. Secretary of State John Kerry hasn't spoken yet; then the president, and, well, it's also a congressional election year.

Some pundits predict the thing will never be built. If Obama dares sign on, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in an interview, “it will be the Vietnam of his presidency.”

Ah capitalism, 21st Century style.

Here's a job-creator vetted through 15,000 pages of earlier environmental studies, says New York Stock Exchange-listed pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. It cites contracts with 50 U.S. suppliers, promises that 59 “special conditions” will make Keystone a pipeline fit for anybody's backyard. Safer than trains of oil tankers anyway, of which some big ones have crashed lately and fatally.

Let's go with this pipeline, Mr. President.

Jack Markowitz is a columnist for Trib Total Media. Email

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