By Robert A. Vella

President Obama’s recent delay on deciding the fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was purely motivated by politics, but the nature of those considerations has less to do about the inevitable outcome of this project than it does about the upcoming 2014 midterms.  In my opinion, the President has already made up his mind.  He’s just not going to announce it until after the election, and for very pragmatic reasons.

Maintaining control of the U.S. Senate is the top priority this year for Democrats, and that will be a difficult task bearing in mind the large number of seats they are defending in addition to the typically low voter turnout of midterm elections which favors Republicans.  If Obama approved Keystone XL now, it would likely ruin any chance of turning out his base in November.  If he rejected the project now, it could sway centrists voters towards the GOP (see:  Keystone XL Pipeline Has Wide Public Support, Poll Finds).  So, delaying his decision until after the election is wise politically.

But, what will that decision be?  Contrary to the debate arguments portrayed by the mainstream news media, Keystone XL is not a job creation versus the environment issue.  Rather, it’s all about corporate profits and geopolitics.  TransCanada is pushing hard for XL because without it the current distribution costs associated with transporting its tar sands oil from the interior of the continent are extremely high.  Furthermore, global economic interests are committed to keeping the price of oil on the open market artificially low (see:  ‘Why we did it’ Part 1, US thirsty for energy).  It should come as no surprise then that the State Department’s environmental impact report, which ostensibly should guide the White House’s decision on XL, was written by a TransCanada contractor.

This might otherwise lead to speculation that Obama will inevitably approve the project.  However, in the modern era of money in politics, corporatism doesn’t always prevail.  Look at the disproportionate amount of political spending Big Oil has made on behalf of Republicans in recent years, and you just might see a sliver of hope that President Obama will ultimately reject Keystone XL.  Spite can be a powerful weapon.

4 thoughts on “The politics behind Obama’s delay on the Keystone XL decision

  1. Rejection of Keystone would do much to harm a number of the worst-actor supporters of the Republican Party. In the long run, it could even make those voices a bit less forceful an influence.


    • In the long-run, perhaps. But, this is a thorny issue for the President in the short term. Unfortunately, public opinion – however uninformed – supports XL. Concerns about the economy always seem to trump environmental dangers. Sooner or later that dynamic will reverse, but we’re not quite there yet.

      I believe Obama would reject XL under the right circumstances. That is why opponents such as ourselves need to keep the pressure up from all angles. Nebraska’s granting of eminent domain power to TransCanada is a biggie. Even hard core Republicans are having trouble defending the trampling of property rights in that state. Native American treaty violations is another potential asset for us, as is the threat posed to the vital Ogallala Aquifer.


        • Opinion polls seldom tell the whole story especially on complex issues like climate change. But, this take from the ABC/Washington Post poll (see above) says a lot:

          For many, economic factors outweigh the environmental hazards: 85 percent said they think the pipeline will create a significant number of jobs. Although 47 percent said they believe the pipeline would pose a significant risk to the environment, those who said it’s a risk are still split almost evenly on whether it should be approved.

          The first point reveals a complete public misunderstanding. Even the questionable State Department report estimated only 35 permanent jobs will be created by the XL project (see: State Department: Keystone XL Pipeline Would Only Create 35 Permanent Jobs).

          How can such a misperception be so prevalent within the populace? The effectiveness of the right-wing propaganda machine, that’s how. Unless we on the progressive left can find a way to mitigate or counter that strategy from conservatives, these obstacles to solving societal problems will only get more difficult. We simply must get money out of politics, or at least control it democratically.


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