Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama at the...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama at the White House (Dec. 7, 2011). Credit: AP

In January, President Barack Obama refused to sign off on the Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf Coast, saying the proposed route warranted more study.

There were two issues at play: The planned route would cross a sensitive water table in Nebraska, and Republicans had imposed a tight deadline for Obama to decide.

Almost six months have passed -- plenty of time to devise an alternate route -- and Obama has made his point with Republicans. Meanwhile, the builder, TransCanada, has reapplied for a permit.

Aside from the fact that approving the revised application would be good politics for Obama, there's another reason: our relations with Canada, our best friend and, not to put too fine a point on it, our largest energy supplier.

The Canadians are sitting on 200 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, but that oil sells at a discount of $30 a barrel because of the difficulty of bringing it to market. A company proposing to build a pipeline to Canada's west coast, where the principal customers would likely be the Chinese, estimates that the line would add $270 billion to Canada's GDP over 30 years.

Canadians believe, often correctly, that the U.S. takes them for granted and, in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's words, treats their country as "one giant national park." He complained bitterly, according to The New York Times, that Canada was being "held hostage" by American politics.

His government has decided to play hardball on the issue. And who can blame it? The government is planning an expedited approval process, allowing only limited public comment, for alternate pipeline routes, both eastbound and westbound, to coastal facilities.

The Canadian environmental movement is at least as aggressive and powerful as its American counterpart, so Harper's government is classifying environmentalists as potential terrorists and threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of groups that challenge the proposed pipelines.

We could do ourselves a favor, and lower the temperature of Canada's politics, by approving the Keystone pipeline route. When gas prices started rising this winter, Republicans blamed the increase on Obama's decision to block the pipeline.

Since gas prices are going down anyway, Obama could OK the pipeline and take credit for the cheaper gas. It's nonsense, of course, but so much of our politics is.

Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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