You’d think that a government with an increasingly severe unemployment problem would be desperate to approve a project that would provide 20,000 ­direct jobs, even if that government does have ­bigger — but related — things on its mind this week.

While the alleged Aug. 2 drop-deadline for raising the U.S. government’s US$14.3-trillion debt ceiling is obsessing Washington, the State Department’s final review of TransCanada Corp.’s $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline, which is due two weeks later, is arguably almost as symbolically significant for the direction of the American economy, at least as long as Barack Obama occupies the White House.

Keystone XL is currently designed to carry 700,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the refineries of the Gulf coast, thus pushing out oil from less reliable sources, such as Venezuela. The line has been fought every step of the way by well-funded environmental non-governmental organizations, ­ENGOs, who have unleashed a vast campaign of disinformation, and even slapped a fatwa on Alberta tourism. They have been helped by the blanket coverage that recent pipeline spills have received, even though the incidence of such spills has been declining for decades relative to the size of the system. The cost of such spills (the bill for the cleanup of the Enbridge leak in Michigan will be more than US$500-million) is surely more than enough incentive to avoid them. Meanwhile, Keystone XL is the safest and most sophisticated pipeline ever built.

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