Slippery non-decision: The Obama administration ducks the pipeline

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A decision not to make a decision mocks the principle of good government. To its shame, that is what the Obama administration did last week in extending its review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The State Department said federal agencies will have more time to consider the controversial pipeline plan. The ostensible reason was the uncertainty following a judge’s ruling which overturned a Nebraska law allowing the pipeline to be built in the state.

But it’s hard not to see the dead hand of politics allowing this year’s congressional elections to pass by without the administration taking a stand. Although the Nebraska Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal on the ruling until September or October, with perhaps more legal maneuvering to follow that, Americans should be told of the administration’s position.

Now they won’t get a chance as controversy trumps democracy. For there’s no doubt that, whichever way it decides, the administration will please some and infuriate others. If it is built, the 1,700-mile pipeline will allow Canada to export oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

Like other environmentally charged issues, this plan has become a symbolic battle pitting jobs and energy dependence against environmental concerns and the need to combat global warming.

Unfortunately, the environmental argument doesn’t fit into a neat box. Earlier this year, the State Department issued a final environmental impact statement that said building the pipeline would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution.

Even if the pipeline were blocked, the oil will still be extracted and shipped to customers such as the Chinese or taken by rail car into the United States, a mode of moving oil which is fraught with environmental danger. With pipelines already criss-crossing the nation, it is unrealistic to treat another as a disaster in the making. For these reasons, the Post-Gazette — while torn — believes the administration should support the long-delayed plan to build the pipeline.

President Barack Obama owes everybody an answer — Canada, the oil industry and environmentalists, too, but most of all the voters. Delaying is not leading.

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