Forcing the President’s Hand on Keystone

This Certainly Won’t Backfire…

In an interesting move, the Republican-controlled House included a measure in the latest payroll tax cut bill that requires the President to decide, within 60 days, what to do about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.  In short, in order to get the payroll tax cuts approved, the President would have to fast-track a decision that he had previously put off for after the election.  Yesterday, the Senate approved the bill, despite earlier prognostications that it was unlikely to do so.

As discussed earlier, some interpreted the President’s delay of the project as a positive: under increasing domestic political pressure, complaints by the EPA, and evidence that the environmental analysis of the Keystone Pipeline was compromised by vested interests, the President had announced that a more thorough analysis of the environmental implications of the project was needed.  While this would not have necessarily meant an end to the project, it at least indicated that some of the criticism was being taken seriously.  As a result, it signaled to some activists that, once the global, local, and state-level impacts were thoroughly explored, the project might have been halted permanently.

Jobs and the Pipeline?

On the other hand, cynics noted that the Obama decision to punt the final say on the Keystone Project was timed in such a way that it would have occurred after the election.  By playing his hands close to his chest and avoiding a decision now, Obama may have hoped to avoid alienating his environmentalist-progressive base, and the section of the population that sees the Pipeline as a potential source of jobs.  Now, while it is true that the jobs claims made by advocates of the Pipeline have been tremendously exaggerated (and increasingly so!  In this video, claims have shot up from 10,000 jobs to 1,000,000 jobs), the language is still out there.  Indeed, the House passed something enticingly called the “North American Energy Security Act,” explicitly linking the pipeline to jobs in the legislative discourse, and calling for the passage of the Keystone.  I mean, who could be opposed to North American Security, right?  Hopefully not you, citizen.

In any case, now the President will have to come down firmly on one side or the other in a shorter timeframe than he originally planned.  For environmental purists, this may be a good thing.  If he had intended to capture the environmental base for the election, only to abandon them by approving the project anyway, he is no longer able to do so.  For pragmatists, it’s less rosy.  If he quashes the project now, the “jobs-killing” language that emerges is sure to impact his chances for re-election.  While Obama is certainly not the Green President that environmentalists had hoped for, he is by far more environmentally friendly than anyone in the current GOP.  Either way, a decision within the 60-day timeframe will almost certainly hurt the President’s re-election chances.