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Editorial comment

At this time of year, we in the northern hemisphere begin to look forward to the onset of Spring – to the months of March and April when the snow has thawed, temperatures rise, flowers blossom and we are blessed with a few more hours of light each day. Springtime holds much hope and promise, especially viewed from the long dark days of Winter. It comes to represent a new beginning and a chance to start afresh. 

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The US State Department has just announced that it will delay announcing its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until the Spring. President Obama has pushed back making his decision until April, with the White House informing reporters that climate change was just “one of a host of priorities” for the President’s second term.

This is a blow for the pipeline project, and especially for those who believed Obama would approve the pipeline immediately following his re-election. Last week saw Senator John Kerry speak in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as part of a hearing for his nomination for the post of Secretary of State. Kerry was careful to keep his opinions on Keystone XL to himself, but made it clear that his history of climate change action (he is the co-author of books and past legislation on climate change; he has pushed for US leadership in global climate change negotiations) would inform his contribution to the final decision.

The decision on Keystone XL is widely viewed as a litmus test for Obama’s commitment to the environment, and to the issue of climate change. This has been problematic; the project has taken on a sort of totemic symbolism for those who oppose oilsands production.

In other news, a letter from 53 senators urges President Obama to consider the high political cost of denying the project. It seems if you aren’t working the environmental angle, you’re working the jobs angle. The project would boost energy supplies and create thousands of jobs for Americans. The letter asks Obama “not to move the goalposts as opponents of this project have pressed you to do.”

So when will I stop talking and writing about Keystone? When will the project shake off the heavy chains that have hampered its progression?

The Washington Post published a very pro-pipeline piece last week, declaring that “Obama should ignore the activists who have bizarrely made Keystone XL a line-in-the-sand issue, when there are dozens more of far greater environmental impact.”1

April is Spring on the cusp of Summer, a transitional time when things long-germinated come into being. It’s a period when nature is poised between two states, dormant and awake; when we are about to move from one to the other. Dare we have hope that the Keystone XL line, long-delayed and dormant, might be given the breath of life in April?

Keystone XL’s southern segment, the Gulf Coast project, does not need approval from the State Department, as it doesn’t cross any national borders. This section is now a quarter complete and installed.

As for the remaining portions of the pipeline, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman has approved the pipeline’s new route through his state, removing what has been a key environmental roadblock.

As it says in the Senators’ letter: “Canada plans to develop this oil resource, and the only question is whether we receive the oil from our friend and ally, or whether Canada is forced to look for new partners in Asia.” Hungry markets await in Asia where, metaphorically speaking, the Spring has already sprung.

1. ‘Keystone XL is coming back’, The Washington Post (23rd January, 2013).

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