Has Obama Made up His Mind on Keystone?

April 24, 2014

Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone:

Obama’s big leap is driven by two factors. The first is that the politics of climate and energy are changing fast. “Nature has a vote now,” says Chris Lehane, a political consultant who works with Tom Steyer, a hedge-fund-billionaire-turned-climate-activist. “People can look outside their window and see that the climate is changing.” The most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which are authored by the world’s top scientists, have erased any doubt that climate change is real and the risks – famine, drought, flooding – are increasing with each passing day. But at the same time, solutions are becoming more obvious: The price of clean energy has fallen dramatically in recent years, solar panels and wind turbines are popping up everywhere, and the path to a post-fossil-fuel world is suddenly opening before us. “The cost curve of clean-energy technology is bending down quickly, while the rate of deployment is going up,” says Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who points out that wind now generates four percent of the electricity in the U.S., and the price of solar panels has fallen 75 percent in the past five years. “Look at what’s happened with LED light bulbs, with photovoltaics. The clean-energy economy isn’t something that’s happening in the future. It’s here today.”

Obama’s other motivation is the judgment of history. When he took office in 2009, he had four major tasks on his to-do list: pump up the economy, get out of Iraq, fix health care and take action on climate change. He put a lot of political muscle into the first three, but on climate change, it was mostly poetic speeches, under-the-radar regulatory reform and billions of dollars in loan guarantees for clean-energy projects. The president’s supporters boast that he’s already done more to tackle climate change than any president before him, but that’s not saying much. He avoided risky political battles and too often treated the greatest challenge human civilization has ever faced as if it were no more urgent than reforming teachers’ unions.

Now Obama has one last shot. “Taking action on climate is one of the most important goals in the president’s second term,” John Podesta, counselor to the president and his point man on climate policy, told me a few weeks ago. “He feels a profound and urgent obligation to get as much done as he can before he leaves office.”

Inside the beltway, there was speculation that the President could announce a decision on the pipeline early this summer. But late in the afternoon on Good Friday – the darkest depths of the news cycle – the State Department released a statement that a decision on the pipeline would be once again delayed: “Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route.” The White House denies the move was in any way political. “I know there’s a great urge and has always been to make this about politics,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said later. “The issue here has to do with a court decision in Nebraska and its impact on the ability for the State [Department] process to continue for agencies to be able to comment.”

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a pipeline supporter, called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice.” But Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska and one of the leaders of the anti-pipeline movement, described the move to me as “a pretty brilliant move” that will give red state Democrats like Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich an easy and highly theatrical way to distance themselves from the president in the mid-terms, as well a rallying point for oil and gas money to support them. “Obama just used oil and gas to get red state dems elected,” Kleeb wrote. “No way will gas and oil push against Landrieu and Begich.”

“Sometimes the art of politics is the art of delay,” says Kalee Kreider, a D.C. consultant who works on climate issues.

6 Responses to “Has Obama Made up His Mind on Keystone?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    I’m hoping to hear good news on Keystone – but we’ve jumped 4ppm in atmospheric COշ within a year – hope it is just an anomaly and not a pointer to future acceleration (usually around 2 ppm increase per year).

    Up-to-date weekly average COշ at Mauna Loa

    Week beginning on April 13, 2014: 401.53 ppm
    Weekly value from 1 year ago : 397.52 ppm

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Trying to understand politics in this country in anything approaching real time is nearly impossible. We may have to wait years before Obama’s intent becomes really clear. I do agree that the delay will be good for red-state Democrats in particular, and for all Democrats in that it will give the Repugnants one less straw man to run against. They can all run against Obamacare instead, and if it continues to succeed and improve as it has, perhaps they will be holding an empty bag of tricks by November.

    After years of attempts at “bipartisanship” and caving to the insane Tea party bullies, Obama has finally grown a stiffer spine and he doesn’t have to worry about re-election, so perhaps he WILL follow through on climate change in his remaining time. At any rate, ANY delay to Keystone for any reason is a good thing, and waiting for the Nebraska supreme court to do its business is a good reason.

    PS I predict that the Kochs and TransCanada will lose patience and try to force the pipelines to the east and west coasts so that they can move their tar sands “oil” for export. I say good riddance.

  3. rayduray Says:

    For those who missed it, Barack Obama burned enough jet fuel on Earth Day to fuel the lives of 1,000,000 Bangladeshis for a year.

    This is not the carbon footprint of a guy who cares about your mono-minded notions about one tiny pipeline across the prairie.

    This is the carbon footprint of a man who is telling his friends he’s all about corporate profits, consumption, TPP shenanigans and vast new seas of oil fueling our pivot to Asia, not to mention our fabulous new product, Cold War II featuring brand new variants on old sabre-rattling exercises in our flashy gas guzzling F-whatevers overflying Russian airspace in order to provoke “our enemy(TM)”.

    For the terminally stupid, Obama’s friends do not include the crazy-caring commies chaining themselves to the White House fence in defense of some ethereal environment. 350.org? Better to organize an orgy of 350, donchathink?

    His (the O-bomb-inator’s) friends are the ones who can afford to build, er I mean, put up the corrupt cash for his “library” near enough to Chicago that the Pritzkers can claim ownership and far enough out into the suburbs so that future historians hoping to parse the Obama archives (fully redacted as needed forever) will only be mildly reminded of the city’s riff-raff, off in the inner miasma of the Cook County airshed.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Nice rant, Ray. So far left in spots that it goes ’round the circle and meets the Libertarians coming around the other way. Ever think of starting your own country?


  4. […] 2014/04/24: PSinclair: Has Obama Made up His Mind on Keystone? […]


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