President Obama has kept the Keystone XL pipeline in limbo for six years by delaying a decision on a series of phony pretexts. 

The pipeline would bring us energy from a friendly neighbor and would likely create more than 15,000 jobs.  But environmentalist groups, an important part of President Obama’s base, are adamantly against the pipeline, predicting the ruin of civilization as we know it if it is built.

“We’ve lived through these scare tactics before,” write Stephen Moore and Joel Griffin, respectively chief economist at the Heritage Foundation and research assistant at the same institution. Moore and Griffin recount the similar environmental hysteria in the lead-up to building the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s.

Like the Keystone pipeline, the Trans-Alaska pipeline attracted dire warnings from environmentalists. For a taste of déjà vu, you should read their description of the circumstances under which the Trans-Alaska pipeline came into being:

The Wilderness Society, for example, issued a resolution warning that the pipeline threatened "imminent, grave and irreparable damage to the ecology, wilderness values, natural resources, recreational potential, and total environment of Alaska." James Moorman, counsel to the Environmental Defense Fund, predicted that "disastrous massive oil spills along literally thousands of miles of the Pacific Coast" were "inevitable." David Bower, then president of Friends of the Earth, said that, "If, as many scientists fear, we are approaching the point of no return in a race to oblivion, then we urge that all the checks and balances of Government be used, not superficially, to ensure a tenable future for us all."

Also like the Keystone pipeline, the Trans-Alaska pipeline was repeatedly delayed. But the Trans-Alaska pipeline was built and guess what—the apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists proved wrong:

However, aside from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill—which was a tanker accident, not a pipeline leak—the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, or TAPS, has had an exemplary environmental record.

The fear of earthquake-related ecological disaster proved overblown when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck along the Denali Fault on Nov. 3, 2002. Structures holding the pipeline above ground were damaged, but the pipeline itself did not buckle.

And what of the pipeline's impact on the ecosystem? A study delivered in 2002 to the American Society of Civil Engineers found that "the ecosystems affected by the operation of TAPS and associated activity for almost 25 years are healthy." The pipeline system, it said, "is simply another feature on the landscape, to which the flora and fauna have habituated."

Meanwhile, the ecosystem of Prince William Sound has in large part recovered from the damage inflicted by the 1989 tanker spill (in which an estimated 11 million gallons of crude leaked when the ship ran aground). According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's 25th anniversary report, the "measurable impacts have diminished over the last two decades. In 2013, even two vertebrate species that had shown consistent and lengthy signs of exposure and effects—harlequin ducks and sea otters—appeared to have recovered."

The oil-field structures, according to an environmental report prepared for TAPS in 2001, were used by birds "for nesting, perching, and foraging." In 2011, a census (the most recent) conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, showed that the Western Arctic caribou herd (Alaska's largest) numbered about 325,000—four times the pre-pipeline count of 75,000 in 1976.

The lesson of the Trans-Alaska pipeline is that we can build pipelines in ways that protect the environment while yielding large economic benefits. The naysayers were wrong 40 years ago, and policy makers should give scant credence to their arguments against Keystone today.

As a recent Forbes magazine piece observes, the Keystone pipeline, the impact of which has been excessively studied (and studied again) is “an environmental and economic no-brainer.” It also has widespread public support (65 percent in favor, according to a recent poll).

None of this is enough to sway the unappeasable environmentalists, however, and President Obama has been willing to sacrifice jobs to please this well-heeled and vocal group of his supporters. I wonder if the president’s tentative steps to come to grips with reality in the Middle East will be so base-alienating that he especially won’t want to disappoint environmentalists now (even though conditions in the Middle East clarify why we need energy from friendly sources).