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Pandering the name of the gasoline game

Mar 29, 2012 - By The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The competition was intense, but Republicans just managed to edge out the Obama administration for Most Disingenuous Political Ploy of last week.

But it was close.

President Barack Obama made an impressive showing in the disingenuous competition, issuing an executive order and a presidential memorandum on Thursday, neither of much consequence, and appearing in Cushing, Okla., to announce expedited handling of energy infrastructure projects.

The best known of these is a proposed 532.9-mile pipeline extension that would increase the amount of crude oil that could be moved from Cushing to refineries at Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf Coast and to facilities at Houston. The extension had been part of the rejected Keystone XL proposal to add 1,600 miles to the 2,151 pipeline miles (Keystone 1) completed over the last few years by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp.

Republicans have tried to turn Keystone into a presidential campaign symbol of administration dithering on energy, a standard feature of the party's playbook. That didn't get much traction, however, because the Obama administration often has veered from positions advocated by environmentalists and has helped nudge domestic oil exploration and production to eight-year highs.

Republicans sensed fresh political opportunity in the recent rise in gasoline prices, though they know full well that oil and gasoline prices are set by a global market beyond the reach of U.S. presidents. Indeed, the current increases in part reflect fears of disrupted oil supplies because of military action against Iran -- action that Republicans have been encouraging.

Nonetheless, rising prices required Obama to at least appear to be doing something, hence the executive order and presidential memorandum. Both documents speak approvingly of coordination, streamlining, transparency and accountability among various federal agencies. But they also acknowledge existing laws and budget constraints. It's hard to see how anything the president did last week will make a significant difference in expediting the project.

For their part, though, Republicans continued to spew long-discredited claims that Keystone XL would create 20,000 jobs. (TransCanada once claimed it was 100,000.) The State Department's January report to Congress confirmed that the XL project would create only 5,000 to 6,000 jobs over two years. That would have no real impact on U.S. unemployment.

Likewise, the Energy Department found that Keystone XL would not increase supplies of crude oil in the United States or the gasoline output of U.S. refineries. Those refineries are operating at capacity, thanks in part to Canadian crude that already flows into this country, some of it into Wood River via Keystone 1. Hence, zero impact on today's gas prices.

It is those particularly inartful distortions that earned Republicans the top spot for political disingenuousness last week.

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