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Keystone XL Pipeline: Why Obama Should Approve It

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Thousands marched in Washington, D.C., yesterday to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. During the presidential campaign, it was a flashpoint between environmentalists and many Republicans. Obama deftly avoided making a decision on it before the election. But now, he has to step back up to the plate and approve it. He needs the political clout.

The XL pipeline, proposed by the Canadian company TransCanada, would bring unrefined oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast for refining. Parts of it already exist, but TransCanada would like to expand it through states like Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Altogether, it would carry more than half a million barrels of oil a day across nearly 2,000 miles.

The very idea has environmentalists wretching. 350.org, which opposes its construction, helped turn out a few thousand people yesterday in front of the White House to prove their point. The march comes on the heels of a letter a group of senators sent President Obama last Friday, asking him to approve the pipeline on the grounds that it would create jobs and reduce U.S. dependency on Mideast oil.

My heart is with the environmentalists, but Obama can’t afford not to approve the pipeline. He needs political clout to help with his other priorities and this is the best way to get it. Approving the pipeline would send a message that he’s willing to compromise to help the economy and work with Republicans. That's going to be important because Democrats don't control the House and barely control the Senate. In return, he should look to get concessions on green energy programs and his proposed budget, not only to help pacify his environmental allies he would be sure to piss off with the pipeline but also because they're good policy.

All of us bemoan gridlock and talk about the need for compromise, but we never want to be the ones to give up on our priorities. It may be that for many of us environmentalists, we may have to give this one up in order to win on other priorities.

Compromise isn’t fun. But on the Keystone pipeline, it’s the best move Obama can make.

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