Surprise: Obama to fast-track approval for Keystone pipeline's, er, southern half

I’ve got to hand it to him. This is so shameless and predictable a pander that it really did make me laugh when I read it. Well played, champ. As far as every low-information voter in America who barely scans the headlines is concerned, you just “approved the Keystone pipeline.” You really do care about gas prices.

President Obama plans to announce in Cushing, Oklahoma Thursday that his administration will expedite the permit process for the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, a source familiar with the president’s announcement tells CNN.

In January, the Obama administration denied a permit for the 1,700 mile long Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would stretch from Canada’s tar sands development to the U.S. Gulf Coast. That decision was met by persistent Republican criticism that the president has not been doing everything possible to create jobs and combat high gas prices…

Senior administration officials would not confirm the president’s plan to unveil the effort to cut red tape for the project, though one senior administration official acknowledged the need to deal with the glut of oil in Cushing, where oil from the Midwest hits a bottleneck as it is transported to the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s the northern half of the pipeline, particularly the section that was originally set to be routed through the Nebraska Sandhills (and which was re-routed by TransCanada months ago), to which environmentalists object most vehemently. Oh, minor footnote: TransCanada announced weeks ago that it was planning to start building the southern half of the pipeline by late spring or early summer at the latest. It doesn’t even need approval from the State Department to do so because no international boundary is implicated. All it needs are regulatory approvals from whichever federal agencies are in charge here. (Bureaucracy being what it is, no one’s quite sure yet who that might be.) All The One is doing here is making sure there’s a little less red tape in the way of a project that’s already a fait accompli. And he’s doing it, conveniently, just in time for his big photo op at the oil storage complex in Cushing, Oklahoma on Thursday.

It will be a strange and remarkable visit considering that Obama in January denied a permit for the northern section of the pipeline that would have crossed the Canadian border. The strangeness wasn’t lost of Harold Hamm, the chief executive of Continental Resources, Mitt Romney’s new energy advisor, and a first-rate oil tycoon, worth $11.5 billion by Forbes’ most recent reckoning.

“It’s so hypocritical and so ironic after everything he’s tried to do against the industry,” said Hamm in a phone interview with me today. “He’s trying to take credit for all the gains we’ve made against the backdrop of the biggest oil storage complex in the world.”…

The southern stretch of the Keystone XL will be instrumental in opening up the bottleneck that has prevented Bakken oil from getting to market. Bakken producers have had to rely on tanker trucks and trains (especially those operated by Obama buddy Warren Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe) to get crude to market.

Follow the progression here. The polling on gas prices generally and Keystone in particular is horrific. No less than Bill Clinton gives a speech three weeks ago urging Democrats to “embrace” the pipeline. McConnell forces a Senate vote on approving the pipeline and gets 11 Democrats to switch sides; so close is the final margin that The One himself is forced to lobby skittish Dems to stick with him. And then that CBS poll drops last week showing his job approval suddenly in a tailspin, with gas prices the only obvious explanation. He had to do something so this is what he did — a cosmetic gesture to help speed the construction by a few months of a pipeline that was always going to be built anyway. I bet it’ll help him in the polls, too. Coming soon: Obama signs executive order instructing IRS to send refunds to people who overpay their taxes.

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