Keystone XL Pipeline Makes for Rare Common Ground in Congress

As our nation's energy portfolio evolves there is an increasing degree of commonality found between sides that are traditionally opposed.

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Pete Sepp is executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.

The partisan line in the sand that we have come to know so well in recent years—on nearly every issue—has not spared the nation's energy policy. Today, as ever, the stark divides that exist between those who desperately want to develop more oil and gas and those who desperately want to stop it remain sharp and pronounced.

But as our nation's energy portfolio evolves—as we learn more about how much we can do here at home and with our North American allies to secure our future as an energy production leader—there is an increasing degree of commonality to be found between sides that are traditionally opposed.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

The case of Keystone XL is perhaps the best publicized example of this dynamic. This pipeline—which would carry resources from the vast Alberta oil sands in Canada to ports in the southern United States—has emerged as a flash point in the present debate over energy policy. Support for, and opposition to, the pipeline has mobilized Americans on both sides of the ideological continuum, with activists on the left equating it to "the apocalypse" and grassroots on the right touting its benefits for our nation's energy and economic woes.

For many environmentalists, opposition is a matter of near-religious fervor. But for Americans at large—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—it's not an issue that's about celebrity arrests and protests. It's about the merits of the project, which speak for themselves. Keystone XL is an opportunity to meaningfully expand our nation's energy infrastructure, create thousands of jobs and can do so without creating another government-subsidized program or harming our environment.

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Earlier this month, the State Department released the latest draft in a seemingly never-ending string of reviews and analyses of the cumulative impact of the pipeline. The assessment did not raise a plethora of red flags to the construction of Keystone XL, pointing out that other transmission methods of oil from Canada's oil sands could mean equal or greater environmental risks. So once again another official source does not support alarmist warnings against the construction of the pipeline. This will not satisfy anti-Keystone crusaders, who are already railing against the analysis as it undergoes a comment period.

Yet, for all the noise from the opposition, which lately claims the pipeline could cost jobs (or do very little to create them), others are more optimistic—and they're not all "fat cat oilmen." Many elements of the nation's labor community, including leaders of the AFL-CIO, have taken note of the potential that pipelines in general—and Keystone in particular—can have for employment opportunities.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Campaign politics are never far from the collective consciousness "inside the Beltway," and as the 2014 cycle approaches, Keystone XL is emerging as a key issue for vulnerable red state Democrats like Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Tim Johnson, Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu. While the president is free to cater to his environmentalist base, having secured his second term, moderate Democrats like these have to be more realistic. This pragmatism has already led a considerable cross-section of centrist Democratic senators to formally urge President Obama to expedite approval of the project. For their part, a bipartisan group of House Members on the Energy and Commerce Committee recently unveiled a discussion draft of legislation to "clear away the roadblocks preventing construction of the pipeline."

Common ground is difficult to find. When it's available, we shouldn't run from it. On the contrary, opportunities like these—to safely bolster our energy-supply options—should be seized.

Canada's oil resources are going to be harvested and exported—whether to the United States or to competitors like China. Let's not tie our own hands and reject the partnership of one of our greatest allies.

  • Read Daniel Simmons: Will Obama Get Out of the Way of the Energy Boom?
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