Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cancelling Keystone Won't Kick Our Habit

Other developed countries use substantially less energy.
I don't like the prospect of Canadian tar sands oil, but Floyd Norris has a point in his dejected appraisal of Obama's Keystone XL decision. Tar sands oil is dirty, very dirty, but American activists aren’t likely to stop it from getting pumped out of the ground. They may have kept it from flowing directly onto our soil, but whether in China or elsewhere, that oil will still add to a world supply that Americans all to eagerly consume. As such, I fear that temporarily defeating  the Keystone XL pipeline is a largly Pyrrhic victory.

It’s useful to remember that most of a politician’s power comes before he has given the go ahead. The ability to say yes or no makes a leader valuable, sometimes indispensable, to its supporters. Could Obama have addressed environmental concerns more effectively by tying a safe pipeline to an increased gasoline tax? As I’ve written before, until America’s demand for fossil fuels is addressed, oil will be extracted with varying degrees of safety and oversight, whether in the Gulf of Mexico or the Niger Delta. A higher gasoline tax, carbon pricing, and improved fuel efficiency standards can help slake our thirst. Forcing Canadian oil to China without any reduction in American demand doesn’t solve much of anything.