Obama rejects Keystone pipeline as political dance continues (Updated)

(Updates with details of the administration’s decision.)

Ah, election-year politics, where the issues matter far less than the theater. Enter the Keystone XL pipeline a conduit from Canada’s oil sands straight into an American political minefield. The Obama administration officially rejected the application for the pipeline, which would have brought crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Apparently, it will cling to its earlier assertion that the route needs further study after concerns about it crossing environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska.

Republicans wasted no time in attacking the president for “destroying tens of thousands of American jobs and sell[ing] our energy security to the Chinese,” as a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner put it.

(I’ve pretty much stopped trying to put a number on the jobs, because the rhetoric is all over the map. The State Department estimates 7,000 jobs would be created. People on both sides of the argue vehemently insist the number of jobs is anywhere from zero to as much as 120,000, and the answer is that all of these are just guesses, so take your pick.)

The administration had hoped to postpone a decision on the pipeline until after the election, but Republicans forced the issue by putting a deadline in a year-end bill to extend payroll tax cuts. The move forced Obama to choose between environmentalists, who oppose the line, and unions, several of which have supported the project because it would create jobs.

However, even in making its decision, the administration left the door open for the project to go forward. It said it would consider an application by TransCanada, the company behind the project, that uses a different route and that would address environmental concerns. TransCanada has already said it’s working with the U.S. State Department on a new route.

Time works against the Keystone project. Other pipeline companies already are working to address a bottleneck of crude at the pipeline hub in Cushing, Okla., but over the long-term, our politicians continue to play political games without regard to America’s energy future. If we had an energy strategy, we wouldn’t be having debates like this one. It would be clear how projects like Keystone are necessary for the long-term energy stability of the country. Neither party, however, has shown a willingness to address the larger issues behind the pipeline project.