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ODU Poliltical Scientists Pen Canadian Op-Ed on Keystone XL Pipeline

Two Old Dominion University political science professors have authored an opinion piece in Canada's leading newspaper, The Globe and Mail, about the shifting dynamics around the proposed Keystone XL pipeline following the U.S. midterm elections.

"The President and the Pipeline" appeared in the Nov. 13 Globe and Mail, co-authored by Steve Yetiv, Louis I. Jaffe Professor of International Relations, and Jesse Richman, associate professor of political science.

In the opinion piece, the ODU political scientists suggest the solid victory of the Republican Party in this month's midterm elections may lead to approval of the long-planned Keystone XL project, the controversial plan to build a pipeline to move oil from Alberta's tar sands and North Dakota's Bakken oil fields to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"U.S. domestic debate on Keystone XL is complex, but, in essence, it pits those who argue that the pipeline will create American jobs and boost North American energy independence against those who see it worsening environmental problems, such as climate change," Yetiv and Richman wrote.

More Republicans in the Senate and House may put more pressure on President Obama to approve Keystone XL, reversing field from his longstanding opposition to the multibillion-dollar project.

"The chances have risen, but passage is still not assured. It will likely depend on a deal between the Republican-dominated Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama," Yetiv and Richmond wrote.

The op-ed notes the domestic debate often overlooks another facet of complexity of the project - relations between Canada, site of most of the oil which will be transported, and the United States. The project is strongly advocated by the Canadian government, which was under the impression that Keystone XL would be approved after President Obama's re-election in 2012.

"But even if Congress passes a Keystone XL bill, Mr. Obama could well veto it, despite the hit to his popularity and the risk of damaging relations with Canada, where Keystone is a hot-button national issue," Yetiv and Richman wrote.

The ODU authors say President Obama appears concerned about his legacy as an "environmental president," taking tougher positions on environmental issues than any other recent White House administration.

"Witness the recent U.S.-China agreement to address climate change. It helps solidify Mr. Obama's legacy on the environment but may clash in spirit with signing off on Keystone, although it gives him some political cover to do so if he wishes," Yetiv and Richman wrote.

Yetiv and Richman write that the best chance for a deal on Keystone XL is if Congress suggests ways the administration can realize offsetting environmental gains. "If Congress gives the President something to allay environmentalists' concerns and protect his legacy as an environmental president, he will be more likely to advance the project. Although reaching such a bargain will be difficult in the poisoned U.S. political atmosphere, the midterms have made it much more likely."

For a link to the Globe and Mail op-ed, see HERE.

Yetiv is the author of "The Petroleum Triangle" (Cornell University Press, 2011) and "Myths of the Oil Boom" (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), and has written dozens of op-ed pieces on petroleum issues in national publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times.

A frequent expert commenter on the modern political landscape, Richman is director of Old Dominion University's Social Science Research Center.

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