Environmental activists tip their hand in the "post-Keystone" world

After Barack Obama’s totally predictable cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline project (for now, at least) there was great celebration among the environmental brigade of the Social Justice Warriors. The evil pipeline was dead, along with all the jobs it would bring and the opportunity for us to capture and process much of Canada’s wealth of energy rather than it being shipped to China. (Which it will be anyway when the Northern Gateway Pipeline is complete, whether we get some of it or not.) But as with all things in the liberal enclaves of the country, one victory is never enough. As Time Magazine reports this week, Obama’s allies in the anti-energy front are stoked for additional action and they’ve got their eyes on a much larger prize… the complete halt of any future fossil fuel exploration, at least on federal lands.

President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline marks the end of seven years of activism by environmentalists across the country. But, between celebrations on Friday, activists painted the decision as just the beginning of a new era of activism where any additional fossil fuel projects will not be tolerated.

“It’s good, and at the same it cannot be the extent of Obama’s work on climate,” said Lindsey Allen, Rainforest Action Network executive director, of Obama’s Keystone decision. “This is an opportunity to build on momentum and work to stop other projects like this.”

The next frontier—a campaign known as “keep it in the ground“—has been in the works since long before Obama reached his final decision about Keystone. Activists have used the phrase, which refers to stopping new and continued drilling of fossil fuels, in protest since at least the summer.

This “keep it in the ground” movement has been around for a while now, but they’re clearly feeling their oats and see Obama as a real means to an end over the next fourteen months. The “movement” has been lifted up, at least in part, by the folks at The Guardian newspaper who have been running a campaign to convince Bill Gates and other wealthy philanthropists to divest their charitable funds from all fossil fuel companies. Hitting rich donors isn’t a direct enough root, though, so these hopeful activists now would like Barack Obama to use his executive authority to stop issuing new permits for coal, oil and natural gas operations on federal lands.

And why wouldn’t he? Despite the fact that such a cutoff of jobs and economic development is highly unpopular around the nation and the crisis which would follow such actions because we can’t replace even 15% of that energy with wind and solar, Obama doesn’t have any more elections to win. He could just follow up the Keystone reversal with any number of other, similar moves. Cancelling drilling permit and lease auctions would be only a quick swipe of the pen away. (No phone required in this case.) Using his now patented excuse that anything which contributes to global warming is justification enough to stamp it out, he could wipe all sorts of projects off the map. And that’s exactly what the environmentalists are pushing for.

“Moving forward it’s going to be very difficult for any fossil fuel project to move forward without opposition,” said Benjamin Schreiber, a director at Friends of the Earth. “We have new metric: if a project worsens climate change, we shouldn’t be approving it.”

Before the greenies get too excited, however, it’s worth reminding them that there’s an expiration date on all of these moves and it comes in January of 2017. If the Democrats veer far enough to the left to scare off the middle of the nation you’re going to have a Republican working in the White House and appointing new members to the Cabinet. Anything undone by Barack Obama’s pen can be put back in place just as easily and just as quickly. There is no “legacy” from executive actions, only legislation.

This is all political showmanship for Barack Obama, but he’s tying an albatross around Hillary Clinton’s neck if she has to take a stand and back all of these decisions. And her base is going to want to know if she plans on continuing them when she moves into the West Wing.