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  • Policymaking Considerations of Energy and Environmental Policies: The Keystone Pipeline Project

    By Kaplan University School of Social and Behavioral Sciences Faculty, Dina Krois and Tomicka Seabrooks

    AS-DinaKrois_headshotAS-TomickaSeabrooks_headshot
    Dina KroisTomicka Seabrooks

    As evident in the environmental and energy policies of today and of the past decades, policymakers and public administrators have had to consider new factors - including political feasibility, needs and impact assessment and sustainability - in the creation of policy.

    The Keystone Pipeline Project.  One recent example that closely reflects this shift in how to consider policymaking is the Keystone Pipeline Project. The Keystone Pipeline allows U.S. companies to partner with TransCanada, a Canadian company, to transport oil from Canada to the U.S. According to TransCanada, at the start of project-related negotiations in 2008, the oil was to be transported through Texas, Oklahoma, Montana and North Dakota. In an effort to avoid sandhills, the route has since been changed to include Nebraska and is still under review due to environmental concerns.

    Since this project is one that crosses state lines, it requires the approval of the federal government. In 2011, a new route was finalized and the bill was set to pass. In January of 2012, however, the project was rejected because President Obama required more time to review the project. As of this writing, the U.S. Senate has rejected a bill calling to expedite the project.

    The Project's Ever-changing Route. The Keystone Pipeline route has changed several times due to environmental, safety and health issues. In this political environment, this project continues to fail to meet the demands of some political leaders and members of the public. The political interests of the states, the political parties in Congress and within the bureaucracy may not have been adequately balanced or considered when initially putting together this project.

    Political Feasibility. Determining the political feasibility of a particular project is the step taken early on in the policymaking process when identifying what political players will play a role in the policy, and whether they will support or oppose the policy. Political feasibility requires us to consider the role of states, interest groups, administrative agencies and private industry in the creation and implementation of the policy.

    Environmental Considerations. Environmental groups primarily oppose the Keystone Pipeline project. One such group, Friends of the Earth, expressed concerns about dirty tar sands oil and water waste as a product of the Project and explained that it "could devastate ecosystems and pollute waters, and would jeopardize public health"(www.foe.org). Another environmental group, the National Resource Defense Council, also opposes the Keystone Pipeline project with spill and pollution concerns topping its list.

    Federal Support. The Keystone Pipeline has mixed support in the federal government. The Department of State stated in a press report on their website that the President oppose the project, citing a lack of research and that the project was not "in its current state, in the national interest" (www.state.gov). For the federal government, the determination of the national interest includes the consideration of factors such as environmental impact, economic impact, foreign policy and compliance with other federal regulations.

    When presented to Congress, the Keystone Pipeline Project's fate has been decided based on party votes. In the House, Republicans passed a bill on infrastructure and highway funding that included approvals for portions of the Keystone Pipeline permit. But, a few weeks later in the Senate, Democrats defeated a federal transportation bill expediting the Pipeline. In addition to the requirement of federal government approval, the support of the impacted states is also necessary for passage of the project into law.

    Impact Assessment. In addition to a political feasibility assessment, another consideration for policymakers and administrators early on in the policymaking process is the needs and impact assessment. Impact assessment can come in many different forms, but administrators and policymakers should consider the long-term economic, technological, environmental or social impact of their policies. Like forecasting in the policymaking process, the purpose of impact assessment is to determine the impact of a policy prior to its implementation. Therefore, an impact assessment of energy and environmental policies is even more essential given the technological changes in this industry and the predicted changes over time.

    In this case, the project administrators and creators will need to determine whether the Keystone Pipeline Project is what the U.S. needs to support its environment. While the ability to transport oil is a factor in the effort to reduce dependence on other foreign oil, the project must also support the environment, positively impact the American public and stimulate the economy.

    At Odds. The economic and environmental impacts of the Keystone Pipeline are at odds. Those that support this legislation, such as TransCanada, argue against wide-scale environmental concerns, and prefer to emphasize the bigger picture of generating thousands of U.S. jobs and billions of dollars in revenues. Those that oppose this project, like the National Resources Defense Council, argue that environmental assessment and impact has not been adequately assessed and that the proposed job creation numbers are inflated.

    Sustainability. Lastly, one cannot address environmental or energy policies without looking at stewardship and sustainability, both significant considerations. As explained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through stewardship, policymakers and administrators aim to be responsible for and protect the environment through conservation and sustainability practices. Stewardship is, additionally, a shared responsibility and one that involves the actions of individuals, businesses and government.

    The EPA's Environmental Impact Statement identified numerous environmental concerns as a product of the construction and operation of the Pipeline. Initial reports indicated concerns about oil spills, safety and greenhouse gas. The final report of 2011 indicated that many of the significant impacts to the environment could be overcome if all environmental protection measures of the Statement were followed.

    The formal decision-making process can only go so far in light of the changing environment of the political landscape, as demonstrated by projects such as the Keystone Pipeline. This process goes beyond simply choosing between job creation and the protection of the environment. And, in this case, the final chapter has not yet been written. Final approval may still be granted for the Keystone Pipeline Project in the future. But for this to occur, the project's final transportation route, its environmental impact and its economic impact, will need to be considered and addressed.

    Policy Considerations Have Changed Across The Board. When creating policies, numerous considerations come into play. From the future needs and impact of the policy outcome, to the cost benefits of the policy, to the private-public and intergovernmental coordination that will be involved with the implementation of the policy, many factors must be considered when discussing Keystone or any other significant project or policy.

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