Has Obama decided to reject the Keystone XL pipeline already?
posted at 2:21 pm on April 24, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
That’s what Rolling Stone magazine hears from its sources, although the sequence of events last week might call their sources into question. This scooplet came in a lengthy and salutary profile of Barack Obama’s reinvigorated enthusiasm for environmental issues, although Jeff Goodell writes that the Keystone XL pipeline has “become a kind of albatross,” and blames — who else? — the Koch Brothers for that. But the decision has already been made, Goodell insists, and the only remaining issue is when to make the announcement (via Jeff Dunetz):
For the White House, the fight over the pipeline has become a kind of albatross, one that is getting in the way of more constructive progress. Sources close to the president say he is eager to get it off his plate. “I’m confident that the president is aware of every nuance of this debate,” says Zichal. Activists meet him everywhere he goes with handwritten signs urging him to kill the pipeline, and he gets letters from Democratic senators in tough re-election fights, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, arguing that if he delays approval of the pipeline any longer, it could cost them the election.
What senators like Landrieu and Pryor fear, of course, is the Koch brothers’ attack machines. Koch Industries is indeed one of the largest landowners in northern Alberta, holding leases to more than a million acres in the tar-sands region, and they stand to profit hugely if the pipeline is approved. But as with the power-plant rules, the impact that rejecting Keystone will actually have with the electorate is far from clear. Tiernan Sittenfeld, an analyst with the League of Conservation Voters, points out that in the 2012 election, Keystone supporters spent $11 million to target anti-Keystone candidates in 18 races – and none of them lost. In the 2014 election, it doesn’t hurt that billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged that his political-action committee, NextGen Climate Action, will spend $100 million targeting climate deniers and Keystone supporters. “President Obama is obviously very committed to this issue,” Steyer told me in an e-mail. “My goal is to support him in this in any way I can.”
Exactly how the president has weighed the decision on Keystone is a closely guarded secret in the White House, known only to a few senior advisors like Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer. But it’s no surprise that I was told recently by members of the administration that the pipeline would, in fact, be rejected. “If the president is really serious about his legacy on climate change, he can’t have that and approve Keystone,” an Obama insider told me. “The only question now is the timing of the announcement.”
No doubt this feeds into the suspicions that conservatives and pro-energy moderates have of Obama on the pipeline question. However, Goodell provides a reason for some skepticism on his claim in the very next paragraph:
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.”
Let’s parse this Good Friday data dump a little more closely. Why would the White House need to get this out semi-under the radar using that technique? It wouldn’t be to sneak it past the conservatives and pro-energy moderates, and especially not past the Democrats hoping to run on the pipeline’s economic benefits. That contingent is already assuming the worst from all of these nonsense delays, based on little else other than sheer political pusillanimity.
The only benefit of kicking the decision can down the road again is to keep the anti-Keystone activists engaged and outraged a little longer. If Obama really has decided to reject the pipeline, what does he gain by waiting? The time to announce that is now in terms of the electoral prospects for the Landrieus, so that the issue can fade a little by November, or even better to have rejected it last year. In fact, the smartest time would have been right after the 2012 election, in the middle of the budget fights last year, which would have drained all of the vigor out of the issue by now.
The only real reason I can see for keeping this alive isn’t that Obama will reject Keystone; it’s that he’s more likely to acquiesce to bipartisan and union pressure to approve it. He wants to wait until after the midterms in order to keep the cash influx from Tom Steyer and other deep-pocket enviros in the mix, especially since Steyer has made it clear that he’ll go after Democrats in this cycle, starting with Landrieu. If Obama rejected it now or had already done so, that money stays in play — and so does the union cash, despite their support for Keystone. Only an approval risks that cash in the midterms.
The actual decision still could go either way, but if I was writing for Rolling Stone, I wouldn’t bet the bank on what administration sources are saying. I’d look more at what they’re doing.
Update: The White House disputes Goodell’s report, according to National Journal’s Jason Plautz:
The White House is pushing back against a Rolling Stone magazine story that cites two “high-level” Obama administration sources saying President Obama intends to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Nobody who knows POTUS’ thinking on Keystone is talking and nobody who is talking knows,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said on Twitter Wednesday evening. …
But Lehrich continued the pushback in a second tweet, arguing that the outcome of the ongoing review hasn’t been decided.
“National interest determination being evaluated at State Department in keeping with longstanding tradition. Will be made on merits,” he said, repeating the standard White House line and practice of referring questions to State.