Bloomberg View: Occupy Wall Street's Next Move; Speeding Up Keystone XL

Occupy Wall Street’s Next Move ● What’s the Holdup With Keystone XL?

So … This Is Awkward

The subject of Occupy Wall Street for this editorial page—Bloomberg Businessweek is part of Bloomberg LP, majority-owned by Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York—has “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” written all over it. We’re opting for “damned if you do” because the swift removal of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15, after demonstrations were shut down in Portland, Ore., and Oakland, Calif., marks an important evolution in the life of a significant movement.

After police cleared the privately owned park, Mayor Bloomberg insisted that the protesters be allowed back in, although not to camp. This seems a sensible compromise. Concerns over safety and health at the site were legitimate, and the assertion of political grievances shouldn’t require tents and tarps to enter the public arena. In a Nov. 15 ruling, New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Stallman agreed.

So what’s next for the protesters? They might consider a proposal of one of the movement’s leading voices, Kalle Lasn, the founder of the Canadian website Adbusters: “We declare victory and throw a party.”

Lasn—who warned last week that “the other side is owning the narrative right now. People are talking about drugs and criminals at OWS”—is right that there’s much to celebrate. A small group of people has raised an issue that must be addressed: Inequality is growing extreme, opportunity is becoming constricted. Although the protesters appear to have no unified agenda and plenty of complaints, that core observation has struck a chord across political and economic divides the world over.

Rather than risk losing public support through accounts of lawbreaking at their encampment, or a dwindling of their numbers as cold weather sets in, the protesters in New York and elsewhere would do well to clear their heads, refine their message, and set an agenda for reform.

Even those Americans apathetic about or opposed to the protests have to acknowledge the success of the movement. As with the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street showed that political forces too large to ignore can still be marshaled at the margins. Both groups are a reminder that political change can work from the outside in, with wilder, rougher ideas gaining refinement as they make their way to the center.

We agree with some of the arguments raised by the Occupy Wall Street protesters and disagree with many more—particularly the divisive, simplistic notion that society is a 99 percent-vs.-1 percent dichotomy. But we applaud the discussion that’s been opened, and we hope it can turn constructively to the mission of seeing to it that all Americans have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Remove Politics from the Pipeline Delay

President Barack Obama is being accused of playing political games in delaying the construction of a major new oil pipeline across U.S. soil. He should take this as an opportunity to prove he cares more about the economy than about appearances.

The project is TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar-sands crude through the Great Plains to the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. State Dept. has said it needs an extra 14 months to decide whether to allow the pipeline, creating speculation that Obama wants to bury a contentious environmental issue until after the Presidential election, to avoid scaring off campaign donors.

There’s a practical reason to delay the deal: The Nebraska Legislature and Governor Dave Heineman were prepared to block it. Their concern has been that even small spills from the proposed pipeline might contaminate wetlands and other sensitive ecosystems in the Sandhills region, where the vast Ogallala Aquifer is close to the surface.

Nebraska’s lawmakers met in special session this month to work out a bill that would give their government power to approve the route of any new pipeline through the state—authority it could use to prevent Keystone XL from crossing the Sandhills. Although TransCanada had questioned the state’s right to block the route, Sandra Zellmer, a University of Nebraska law professor, maintains that the state has constitutional authority over its natural resources that’s not preempted by federal law.

In any case, it wouldn’t have made sense for the U.S. State Dept., which has primary responsibility for approving the pipeline, to ignore or resist Nebraska’s efforts. Arranging for a delay to look for a route more acceptable to Nebraskans was the right move. This week, TransCanada told Nebraskans it would chart a course that doesn’t traverse the Sandhills.

What’s not clear is why the delay should be so long. The State Dept. says it will take until the first quarter of 2013 to assess the environmental impact of a new path for the pipeline because that’s “the time typically required for environmental reviews of similar scope by other agencies.” But TransCanada claims already to have investigated seven routes that would avoid the Sandhills. Shouldn’t that make it possible to study the environmental impact of a detour relatively quickly?

Ultimately, the State Dept. should approve the pipeline. The U.S. would benefit from several thousand seasonal construction jobs and from the business of refining the 700,000 barrels of oil a day that would flow through its territory to the Gulf Coast. Canada must account for the extra emissions in its national efforts to limit the release of greenhouse gases. The State Dept.’s job is simply to ensure the safety of the pipeline running through the U.S.

The Obama Administration can do this—and put Keystone above politics—by speeding up its evaluation.

    BOTTOM LINE -

    To read Jonathan Alter on the rebirth of Newt Gingrich and Pankaj Mishra on the roots of Islamism, go to: Bloomberg.com/view.

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