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Keystone XL approval is one executive action the nation would embrace

keystone-xl-pipelineMembers of President Barack Obama’s team made it clear this past weekend that Obama will use part of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night to send a message to Congress.

“When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done,” senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said, “he will not wait for Congress.” Other members of Obama’s camp used similar language during appearances on Sunday’s talk shows.

By “Congress,” the president means Republicans, particularly in the House, who have not been keen on his progressive agenda. Obama laid out big plans during this speech a year ago, following his re-election, but things like stricter gun control and immigration reform ended up on high center.

No one should be surprised by Obama’s not-so-veiled threat to use executive action to bypass Congress if he deems it necessary. He has done plenty of that already. Most famously, Obama has delayed enforcement of particularly troublesome provisions of his Affordable Care Act. He also has tweaked compliance requirements of No Child Left Behind, changed enforcement rules of some immigration laws, and done the same with mandatory minimum sentences.

The prospect of going around Congress some more is disconcerting. However, there is one executive order that Americans should hope Obama employs. It’s approval of the construction of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move Canadian tar sands crude to Cushing. The southern leg of the pipeline recently opened for business and is moving oil to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Because oil passing through Keystone’s northern pipeline would be crossing the border into the United States, approval of construction requires an OK from the State Department — the president has final say. Obama said no in early 2012, following three years of review that led the State Department to say the pipeline posed no significant environmental risk.

Nebraskans’ concerns about the project’s effects on the Ogallala Aquifer were addressed in a rerouting of the pipeline. That hasn’t satisfied environmentalists who continue to fight the project’s approval. Obama has so far bowed to those concerns by doing nothing to move Keystone forward.

And yet as we dither on Keystone, hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude are being transported by rail each day, which poses a greater safety and environmental risk than pipelines. Just last week, the national transportation safety boards in Canada and the United States urged their governments to come up with new safety rules regarding this practice. A “major loss of life” is possible from an accident involving the growing use of trains to move crude, these boards warned.

Delaying on Keystone also is hurting relations with our allies in Canada. And, it’s puzzling given Pfeiffer’s (and others’) assertions that the president is concerned about American jobs and livelihoods. Keystone would put thousands of people to work! Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer noted last week, “Here is an easily available piece of infrastructure … and yet the president, who’s been incessantly pushing new ‘infrastructure’ as a fundamental economic necessity, can’t say yes.’”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Monday of the pipeline: “It’s time to get off the dime and get that done now.” Obama should have done it Tuesday night in the State of the Union Address. But sadly he did not.

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This editorial was written by the editorial board of The Oklahoman.