OK the pipeline: The State Department says it won’t expand pollution

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One of the tough decisions for President Barack Obama in his quest to make curbing greenhouse gases a part of his legacy just got easier. The State Department released an 11-volume final environmental impact statement last week which said that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution.

That’s key because Mr. Obama said last year that he might approve the controversial 1,700-mile pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” the problem — a standard that would seem to be met. The next step belongs to Secretary of State John Kerry, who must recommend a choice to Mr. Obama.

The administration owes everybody a decision. It is long overdue. Canada, which wants to export oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is frustrated. Also left anxious are environmentalists and petroleum interests.

The environmental position puts Mr. Obama in the greatest quandary. Just because the report says the pipeline doesn’t worsen the carbon pollution problem much doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. The president wants to wean the nation off fossil fuels and here he is being asked to facilitate their greater use, thanks to an extraction process that is energy-intensive.

In truth, a refusal to build the pipeline would not do much to curb global warming. The crude is going to be extracted and used anyway, either bought by the Chinese or shipped by rail to the United States.

While environmentalists fret about the threat of pipeline ruptures, oil pipelines already criss-cross the country without most Americans noticing. Not so tanker trains, which have threatened or caused environmental catastrophes recently, some in highly populated areas.

No matter what it decides, the Obama administration will face criticism. We think that the right decision, although admittedly a tough one, is to approve the pipeline. The nation’s interests would be served by further reducing America’s dependence on Middle East oil and by the creation of 1,950 construction jobs that will build the project over two years.

As for climate change, this issue presents a special case. The president can heed St. Augustine, who famously prayed for the Lord to make him chaste, but not yet.

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