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By Robert Rapier on Nov 14, 2011 with 26 responses

Take a Stand, Mr. President

The Importance of Being Decisive

When I worked in Scotland, one of my managers was a wise Englishman named Graham Walker. As with many people whose paths I have crossed in my life, some nuggets of wisdom were transferred from Graham into my long-term memory. One of the things that stuck with me was Graham’s push for decisiveness. He would tell me “Just make a decision and move on. We have a business to run here.” Graham would say that most of the time the decisions would prove to be correct, and when they weren’t we would live with them or correct them down the road. (And of course if a person frequently makes incorrect decisions, then they can be replaced with someone who makes better decisions). But his point was that you can’t live in fear of making the wrong decision, because then nothing gets done.

This is a lesson President Obama could take to heart with respect to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Faced with a difficult decision over whether to approve the pipeline, what did the Obama Administration do? Defer the decision until after the election:

The move is the latest in a series of administration decisions pushing back thorny environmental matters beyond next November’s presidential election to try to avoid the heat from opposing interests — business lobbies or environmental and health advocates — and to find a political middle ground. Mr. Obama delayed a review of the nation’s smog standard until 2013, pushed back offshore oil lease sales in the Arctic until at least 2015 and blocked issuance of new regulations for coal ash from power plants.

Of all the ways I would characterize this decision, “courageous” is not an adjective that comes to mind. Yet in an e-mail that I received just after the decision was announced, the decision was praised by some as courageous:

WASHINGTON (November 10, 2011) – Here are statements from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Robert Redford, an NRDC Trustee, following the Obama administration’s announcement of a delay in the Keystone XL pipeline:

Frances Beinecke: “President Obama is displaying leadership and courage in putting the interests of the American people before those of Big Oil. He has taken another significant step in the fight against climate change and in our march toward a clean energy future, which will mean healthier lives for all. The president’s decision also means that our property, water and agricultural lands cannot be stripped from us without a fight.”

Robert Redford: “This is American democracy at its best: a President who listens to the voice of the people and shows the courage to do what’s right for the country. Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up to Big Oil. Thank you for standing up for us all.”

Two Options; Choose One

Leadership and courage? Surely you jest. President Obama could have made a courageous decision here. In fact, he had two options, either of which would have taken courage. They were:

Option 1 – The President could have announced the following: I have made the decision today to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. I campaigned on the issues of the pressing threat of climate change and continued dependence on fossil fuels. Allowing the Keystone Pipeline to bring Canada’s oil sands to U.S. refineries would move the U.S. in a direction opposite to my campaign promises. The people who elected me into office have made their voices heard, and they do not want policies in place that encourage expansion of the oil sands.

Now that would be a courageous decision. President Obama would be taking a stand that is consistent with the beliefs of those who put him in office, and he would be telling his opponents that the principles he campaigned upon are more important than facing their criticisms over his decision.

Or, it would have been courageous had he taken the opposite stance:

Option 2 – The President could have announced: The United States is a country that is still heavily dependent upon oil for our transportation needs. The Department of Energy estimates that oil will continue to provide the bulk of our transportation fuel for decades to come. The U.S. will continue to rely on oil imports for a large portion of our needs, and it is important that those imports come from friendly, stable countries. I have therefore decided to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal, ensuring stable supplies for years to come. In addition, in this very difficult economic environment, the pipeline will create high-paying jobs that are desperately needed. I realize that my supporters are disappointed in this decision, but I don’t believe rejecting the pipeline will prevent the continued development of the oil sands. In fact, it is quite possible that the oil sands would end up being exported to China, and the U.S. would have to import oil from distant countries to replace oil that we could have sourced from Canada. Thus, rejecting the pipeline posed a very real risk of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

That would be a courageous decision because it would force President Obama to tell some of his staunchest supporters that he believes that job creation and energy security concerns take precedence over their environmental concerns.

Conclusions

Was this a courageous decision by the Obama Administration? Absolutely not. It was the politically expedient decision, which in my view is the source of some of the biggest problems the world faces. We have political leaders who will not make courageous decisions. They debate and defer and try to make everyone happy. Instead, they should sometimes say “This is truly in the best interest of the U.S.” The Obama Administration could have taken this decision either way and made that statement, but instead they failed to make the tough decision because they fear political fallout.

In a follow-up to this column, I will explain which side I come down on — and why.

Link to Original Article: Take a Stand Mr. President

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Rufus on November 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Other than the “Jobs” issue, it doesn’t make a “lot’ of difference. The bitumin/oil is going to the Sea, one way or the other.

    If it goes the Northern route it will make oil marginally cheaper in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and China. (and, conversely, a little more expensive in the South, and Midwest.)

    If it goes the Southern Route you’ll have somewhat the opposite effect (although, there are certain areas supplied by Cushing where oil will probably be more expensive.)

    If I were the Governor of Nebraska, I might look into a little rerouting (still keeping it in the state, however,) and Building a Refinery.

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  2. By John on November 14, 2011 at 3:34 am

    This article is flippantly critical and frankly incorrect on two grounds:

    If the President intends to approve the pipeline, additional review will a) potentially lead to better environmental defenses, either through changes in the pipeline route or greater safeguards against disaster, and b) help get rid of the corrupt stench from the insider game played by the company in its hiring of Paul Elliot to lobby State.

    If he doesn’t intend to approve it, pretending that he might is the best way to prevent Canada from moving quickly ahead in developing alternate shipping routes. Delay in developing export capacity for Alberta’s tar sands means the oil won’t be accessed as quickly, buying valuable time for the planet’s climate.

    And frankly, ignoring electoral considerations, and getting a scientifically-challenged, pollution-denying corporate hack for a president as a result might just cause worse consequences than all of the above.

    That said, he should have implemented the air quality rules. He could have won that fight outright.

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  3. By rrapier on November 14, 2011 at 3:53 am

    John said:

    This article is flippantly critical and frankly incorrect on two grounds:

    If the President intends to approve the pipeline, additional review will a) potentially lead to better environmental defenses, either through changes in the pipeline route or greater safeguards against disaster….


     

    That is just a smokescreen where opponents thought that could get traction. If it was really that easy to contaminate the Ogallala, then it would be contaminated all the time as farmers put thousands of tons of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers on the ground above the Ogallala every year. As I showed in a previous post, we already have pipelines criss-crossing the Ogallala. And pipelines do leak. But if they leaked down into aquifers, then our water would be contaminated all the time. And making the pipeline longer will just mean more leaks.

    RR

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  4. By The BER on November 14, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Deferring things seems to be the name of the game in federal politics these days. Even Obama care the glorious solution to our health care woes , won’t go into effect for a few more years, long after elections.Similarly with the budget cuts to balance the budget. Its a win win approach for politicans, you can’t be accused of not acting and you can’t be accused of acting wrongly (speeches can simply assume it being a success!).

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  5. By The BER on November 14, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Forgot our link :) THE BER

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  6. By Alice Finkel on November 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Mr. Obama likes to vote “present,” at every opportunity. You should not demand too much from the man.

    Promoting ample supplies of energy for the US has never been one of Mr. Obama’s top priorities. Now, if you could put world-class golf courses and resort facilities on every offshore oil rig, you might see a lot more permits being issued.

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  7. By rohar1 on November 14, 2011 at 11:21 am

    When all is said and done, there is always more said than done.

     

    If you have a valuable commodity (crude oil), it’s not really much of a difference if you push it down a pipe to Gulf refineries or load it on a tanker bound for Asia.

    http://www.leaderpost.com/busi…..story.html

     

     

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  8. By rrapier on November 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Bob Rohatensky said:

    If you have a valuable commodity (crude oil), it’s not really much of a difference if you push it down a pipe to Gulf refineries or load it on a tanker bound for Asia.

    http://www.leaderpost.com/busi…..story.html


     

    From your Canadian perspective this is true. From the U.S. perspective, there is a difference. That naive among us think this decision will push us further down the renewables path while keeping the oil sands in the ground. The realists among us say “We need to make sure we have options.”

    RR

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  9. By carbonbridge on November 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    Take a Stand, Mr. President  •  Two Options; Choose One


     

    RR:  Your post today is topical and very timely.  I agree with you that President Obama should have made a tough decision and not stalled this BIG energy supply issue until after an election – still one year away.  Truman said “The Buck Stops Here!”  Elected Presidents have many difficult and contentious decisions to make.  Comes with the job…

    Last week 10,000 to 12,000 people surrounded the White House in peaceful protest against the Tar Sands Pipeline.  This ‘political stall and delay’ will likely hurt Obama more than help him.  Other buyers from Asia wish to acquire the same volume of heavy tar sands oil which was planned for U.S. sale / consumption by a friendly energy exporter to the north.

    Other headlines below on this same subject today.

    -Mark

    • TRADERS BET KEYSTONE ALTERNATIVE WILL END US OIL GLUT

    • THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT TEMPORARILY STOPS AN OIL SANDS PIPELINE. NOW THEY NEED TO START SOMETHING

    • CANADA TARGETS ASIA ENERGY SALES AFTER U.S. PIPELINE DELAY, HARPER SAYS

    • CANADA SHOPS OIL AFTER PIPELINE HALT

    • CANADIAN MINISTER SEES NORTHERN GATEWAY APPROVAL PROCESS EXPEDITED 1 YEAR

    • CANADA SHOPS OIL AFTER PIPELINE HALT

    • ALASKA GOVERNOR: SEND OUR GAS TO ASIA

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  10. By Wendell Mercantile on November 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    He would tell me “Just make a decision and move on. We have a business to run here.” Graham would say that most of the time the decisions would prove to be correct, and when they weren’t we would live with them or correct them down the road.

    RR~

    That works in business and the military, but not in politics — which of course is Obama’s primary business.

    What’s so silly about bowing to political pressure and not going through the Ogallala is that the Nebraska farmers and ranchers are steadily destroying the Ogallala anyway.

    It’s simply wrongheaded to think a 40″ diameter pipeline through the Ogallala and the Sand Hills could do any more damage than Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have already done.

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  11. By Benny BND Cole on November 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Interesting battle shaping up on Keystone pipeline–and property right. As some of you may know, certain elements within the right-wing have raised property rights nearly to a religion.

    So, if some property owners say they do not want the Keystone pipeline across their property–then what? Seize land by eminent domain?

    So seizing land for eminent domain is okay for pipeline but not to preserve rare species?

    The right-wing is getting tied in knots on this one.

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  12. By rrapier on November 14, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    What’s so silly about bowing to political pressure and not going through the Ogallala is that the Nebraska farmers and ranchers are steadily destroying the Ogallala anyway.


     

    In the follow-up, I am going to point out how disingenuous that whole Ogallala argument actually is — for reasons you have alluded to.

    RR

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  13. By Rufus on November 15, 2011 at 2:28 am

    WASHINGTON – TransCanada Corp. has agreed to route its proposed Keystone XL pipeline around Nebraska’s Sand Hills, where the water table from Ogallala Aquifer is often feet or just mere inches below the surface.

    Monday Evening it seems

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  14. By Rufus on November 15, 2011 at 2:31 am

    It turns out you’re only talking 30 or 40 miles out of the way, and one extra pumping station.

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  15. By Rufus on November 15, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Before anyone gets “too” het up on this Sandhills thing, they might want to google “sandhills of nebraska”

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  16. By Ralph on November 15, 2011 at 3:40 am

    A more courageous stand would have the president also offering an alternative solution to the pipeline. This would include the installation of hundreds of thousands of consumer owned rooftop solar units. Ushering in the age of the electric car with millions of solar rooftops will replace oil with the free energy of sunshine. Eliminating a monthly power bill for millions of Americans would be a side benefit. The creation of tens of thousands of jobs would also be a side benefit along with cleaner air.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on November 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Before anyone gets “too” het up on this Sandhills…

    Rufus~

    I’ve traveled through Nebraska’s Sand Hills. They are called the “Sand Hills” for a reason.

    Back in the Pioneer Days, those headed to California and Oregon went through the Nebraska and the Sand Hills. It’s worth noting they didn’t stop, put kept going — headed west.

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  18. By perry1961 on November 15, 2011 at 10:23 am

    “What’s so silly about bowing to political pressure and not going through the Ogallala is that the Nebraska farmers and ranchers are steadily destroying the Ogallala anyway.”

    Maybe that mantra is repeated so often because the Ogallala lies beneath just about the entire state of Nebraska. It provides for most of the irrigation, as well as drinking water for Nebraskans. However, it should be noted that aquifer water levels in Nebraska have risen in the last 50 years, not the other way around. No change was measured between 1950 and 1980. From 1980 to 1999, the level rose 2.6 ft. How can the claim be made that Nebraska farmers and ranchers are “steadily” destroying the Ogallala?

    http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2001/fs-029-01/

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  19. By Wendell Mercantile on November 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Groundwater depletion

    High Plains – The High Plains aquifer (which includes the Ogallala aquifer) underlies parts of eight States and has been intensively developed for irrigation. Since predevelopment, water levels have declined more than 100 feet in some areas and the saturated thickness has been reduced by more than half in others.

    Ogallala Aquifer

    The Ogallala Aquifer is being both depleted and polluted. Irrigation withdraws much groundwater, yet little of it is replaced by recharge. Since large-scale irrigation began in the 1940s, water levels have declined more than 30 meters (100 feet) in parts of Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. In the 1980s and 1990s, the rate of groundwater mining , or overdraft, lessened, but still averaged approximately 82 centimeters (2.7 feet) per year.

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  20. By perry1961 on November 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

    All true Wendell, but no mention of Nebraska in there. Nebraska holds 65% of the water, by volume, in the Ogallala. And they seem to be doing a helluva job managing it. Texas, New Mexico,Oklahoma, and Kansas, on the other hand, have some lean, dry years approaching. It will become increasingly harder to grow cattle and most crops in those areas. They better hope a market for sagebrush develops.

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  21. By rrapier on November 15, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Ralph said:

    A more courageous stand would have the president also offering an alternative solution to the pipeline.


     

    Well, we are doing that now. We are offering all sorts of alternative energy incentives. To me, that’s the best of both worlds. Private funds build the pipeline and create jobs. But government policies provide incentives that make sure that it won’t be desperately needed. But if those policies fail to produce enough alternative energy, the pipeline is there. But keep in mind that private investors are coming up with the $7 billion to build the pipeline. Just because they decide not to build does not mean there will be $7 billion to put solar panels on your house.

    RR

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  22. By Optimist on November 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

     RR, you are aluding to the underlying problem in American, but especially American presidential politics: the guy (no girls, so far) with the short resume tends to win the election, and then discover he is in over his head. Happened to Clinton, happened to Dubya, happened to Obama. If history is a guide, Obama will also coast to easy re-election.

     The problem, of course, is this: guys with experience have long resumes. Long resumes make attractive targets for political opponents, as Mr. Romney is about to discover.

     It also says some thing about the voters. Instead of going with the devil we know, we seem to prefer the silver-tongued devil.

     The sad thing is that this is a world-wide phenomenon. Perhaps a few years of suffering will snap us out of it…

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  23. By takchess on November 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    The real test will come when he has to stand up for Dr Chu. Hopefully he will have the guts to do it.

     

    Arpa-e is making a difference.

     

    Jim

     

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  24. By rrapier on November 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Optimist said:

     It also says some thing about the voters. Instead of going with the devil we know, we seem to prefer the silver-tongued devil.


     

    That’s because the less there is, the more we can project our hopes and dreams onto the candidates. That’s why I wrote before he was elected that Obama was certain to disappoint.

    RR

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  25. By Optimist on November 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    That’s because the less there is, the more we can project our hopes and dreams onto the candidates. That’s why I wrote before he was elected that Obama was certain to disappoint.

    Yeah, I think you’re nailing it there. Hence the current circus in the Republican field: each week brings us a new frontrunner, as the voters desperately project onto a new Mr. (or Mrs.) Nothingheretosee.
    Any ideas on how to fix the system?

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  26. By Optimist on November 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    The real test will come when he has to stand up for Dr Chu. Hopefully he will have the guts to do it.

    Dr. Chu is going to take it for Solyndra, and I don’t think he (or the administration) is completely innocent on that score. They were always guilty of overpromising what green technology can do in terms of job creation.

    By now the president needs to take a break from the green jobs theme, and strike an any job note. Keystone XL was an opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately the president play it like some sports teams: if plan A is not working, we do plan A harder!

    Also: I don’t get why everybody got so excited about Solyndra’s technology: if you are (maybe) 50% more efficient than flat panels, but you only cover 20% (or less) of the area, you still come out way behind.

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