What environmental, economic, and political factors should the Obama administration consider as it decides whether to approve a controversial pipeline project that would transport Canadian crude oil to the United States?
The State Department has said it will decide by the end of this year whether the 1,700-mile, $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline project is in the national interest. If it moves forward, it could eventually bring 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil daily from Canada to Texas.
In recent weeks, the State Department held a series of public hearings on the project in states where the pipeline would cross and finally in Washington, D.C., to help evaluate whether the pipeline is in the country's interest. Some Congressional Democrats and environmental groups say recently released e-mails suggest an overly friendly relationship between a key State Department official and a lobbyist for TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline. Critics say the e-mails cast doubt on the State Department's neutrality.
How should the administration address concerns about the environmental impact of producing oil sands? Will the pipeline be an economic boom, as industry groups supporting the project predict? If the United States doesn't import Canada's oil sands, will it make a difference, environmentally, since China and other countries may take the oil? What are the political implications for President Obama? And how have things changed since we last asked this question in May and in August 2010?