NATIONAL debt counters are a staple of conservative group websites. They give a running tally of the debt level and how fast it's growing.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee has a counter of its own. This one tallies the time that's transpired since backers of the Keystone XL pipeline applied to the State Department for a permit to build the project. As we typed these words, the counter hit 1,616 days, 12 hours, 27 minutes and 57 seconds.
This represents more than four years of waiting by TransCanada and its supporters. The pipeline would bring Canadian tar sands oil to Cushing. A second leg, already under construction, would link Cushing with the Gulf Coast. The Obama administration has blocked construction of the northern segment, despite repeated route changes and compromises. The president is under intense pressure to OK the permit, pressure that's coming from both sides in the controversy.
Pipeline opponents staged rallies in several cities last week, just days after showboating anti-pipeline celebrities were arrested when they handcuffed themselves to a fence near the White House. Pressure from pipeline backers also is intense. The House committee, controlled by Republicans, has been a harsh critic of administration energy policies and vitriolic in its reaction to the Solyndra fiasco, in which an administration-backed solar panels maker took federal funds for an unsustainable business model.
Just as Solyndra has been a symbol for the administration's energy policy follies, Keystone XL is a rallying cry for anti-fossil fuel protesters. Yet protesters got to and from rally venues using vehicles and aircraft powered by fossil fuel. They stayed warm afterward with heat supplied by fossil fuel. Even the signs they carried were on paper stock manufactured using fossil fuel.
The pipeline isn't any more or less environmentally suspect than other such projects, but its visibility makes it ripe for exploitation by protesters. The same can be said of supporters, but the project is justified by the need to make North America more energy independent. The Commerce Committee says the U.S. still imports more than 40 percent of the crude oil it uses, including some from nations that are openly hostile.
We mentioned the debt counter and the pipeline delay counter. AAA counts gasoline price trends. As of midweek, those prices had risen for 34 consecutive days, increasing nearly 50 cents between Jan. 17 and Feb. 20. Rapidly increasing gas prices will put even more pressure on the administration to approve the pipeline.
We won't make the case that approval would depress gas prices. Many factors are at work in setting those prices. But increasing the North American supply of oil will help stabilize the supply side of the equation over time. More importantly, the Canadian tar sands will be sold somewhere in the global market. All the protests in the world won't change that fact.
The administration has hinted that Keystone approval may hinge on a compromise involving trade-offs in carbon consumption policy. Actually, a compromise has already taken place. It's the 1,616 days, 12 hours, 27 minutes and 57 seconds that have gone by since the permit application was filed.
President Obama has no grounds for further delay. The project has been proposed, studied and debated. The routing has been changed to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. Keystone would expand U.S. access to the third-largest oil reserves in the world. It would bring oil to this country from a neighbor who is a friend and an ally.
The meter is running. It's past time for this project to get a green light.