That’s rich: Environmentalists praise the Saudis as an ally in fight against Keystone

The Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay made a great catch on Monday morning, which in itself is a noteworthy feat.

In January, the Republican-led Senate easily passed a bill mandating the speedy construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline after years of Democratic dithering on the issue. By a vote of 62 to 36, eight Democrats joined every Republican in voting to approve the measure. The Republican-dominated House is expected to take up the Senate bill next week. If passed, President Barack Obama has pledged to veto the transcontinental pipeline that would transport Canadian tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast.

“The Republican’s Keystone XL obsession is about one thing and one thing only—a direct payback to Big Oil, specifically to the Koch brothers,” said a campaign manager with the progressive advocacy organization Credo.

In the last decade, the left’s Pavlovian predilection to blame “Big Oil” for many of America’s woes was based on a paranoid fear of President George W. Bush’s stewardship of the American alliance with Saudi Arabia. Many on the left suspected that U.S. petroleum consumption limited America’s freedom of action and forced the country and its president to unduly defer to Saudi concerns.

Today, however, it seems alliances are shifting wildly. Once the all-purpose boogie man for progressives, the Saudis are now proving to be allies of convenience in their fight against Keystone.

“Environmentalists are depending on President Barack Obama’s veto pen to block the project–at least until the State Department issues its final ruling in the matter,” The Sierra Club’s Paul Rauber wrote. “But we have another, even more potent ally in the fight: the House of Saud.”

“Rather than cutting back production in order to stabilize oil prices, the world’s largest oil producer is keeping its petroleum taps wide open, hoping to drown upstart competitors in Canada, North Dakota, and Russia in a sea of cheap oil,” he added.

Today the price of West Texas intermediate crude oil is $44.80 a barrel. Canadian oil-sands producers need a price of between $65 and $75 a barrel to be profitable. Existing production is somewhat protected by long term contracts, but prices like that are sure to stifle new production–and put the hurt on sellers of expensive, dirty oil to new customers.

Of course, this “sea of cheap oil” has its own severe environmental downsides. Sales of gas-guzzling vehicles are rebounding, for example, creating a bind for automakers who are under federal mandates to increase the fuel-efficiency of their vehicle fleets.

That’s quite the reversal for progressives, if not Rauber himself, from the last decade in which the alliance between the House of Bush and the House of Saud was seen as an impediment to the preservation of human dignity and the planet’s environmental security. Of course, political alliances are merely vehicles to achieve desired ends, and it seems the Saudis’ interest in curtailing American domestic energy production aligns perfectly with those on the left who share the same goal.

Perhaps America’s allies in Riyadh aren’t so unsavory, after all.