Obama, Forced To Choose, TiltsTowards Environmentalists

January 21, 2012  

President Barack Obama had sought to delay judgment on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project for carrying tar sands oil from Alberta in Canada down to the Gulf Coast refineries.

Obama realized that this was a wedge issue for the Republicans. The environmentalists, a key component of the Obama coalition, strongly opposed the pipeline because they feared an environmental disaster and objected to the exploitation of tar sands as a source of energy.

On the other hand, the pipeline would have created tens of thousands of jobs, a particularly sensitive topic in this year’s elections. Additionally, Canadian oil did not entail the political risks and the association with unsavory regimes that accompanied the import of oil from the Middle East and Venezuela.

The Republicans sought to outwit Obama by tacking a decision on the pipeline to the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act  a tax bill that was critical for the administration. Therefore Obama came down against the pipeline, attempting to finesse the issue by leaving open the possibility that the pipeline might go through using another route – or after it had been submitted to further study (as if the 3 years invested in studies did not suffice).

He blamed Congress, including the Democrat-controlled Senate, for attempting to pressure him into a hasty choice. This is how he explained the decision to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Republicans were quick to pounce on the decision. Mitt Romney accused Obama of pandering to his political base “He seems to have confused the national interest with his own interest in pleasing the environmentalists in his political base”, while Newt Gingrich sufficed with calling the decision “a stunningly stupid thing to do.”

The strongest reaction came from the Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of “destroying tens of thousands of American jobs and shipping American energy security to the Chinese.  There’s really just no other way to put it.” Boehner added: “Is it not in the national interest to get energy resources from an ally like Canada, as opposed to some countries in the Middle East?

“The president has said he’ll do anything that he can to create jobs.  Today that promise was broken.”

As the State Department is formally responsible for approving the pipeline, House Energy Chairman Fred Upton invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Capitol Hill for a hearing next week. Upton said that as late as October 2010, Clinton tended to support the project and last August the State Department gave preference to the proposed route.

Hillary Clinton did not fall into the trap and instead will dispatch a subordinate, Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs , who is the expert on the pipeline.

From a Jewish angle, the position of the generally liberal American Jewish Committee was instructive. The AJC has pushed back on Republican attempts to make support for Israel a major campaign issue. However the AJC, speaking through its executive director David Harris, was critical now.

“Failure to move forward to approve and build the Keystone XL pipeline threatens our country’s energy security, and also slights Canada, our dependable, democratic ally and neighbor.”

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