Friday, February 28, 2014

Obama's political key for rejecting Keystone

Thought I'd take a break from checking Rabett Run every half hour for Eli's groundbreaking post on or after February 30, and write about something else.

Obama's in a bind on Keystone, with the State Department finding that it won't have much of a climate effect because the oil would otherwise just get out by rail and get burnt anyway. Keystone proponents will say his "own experts" are saying that it passes the test Obama set for it.

If Obama wanted to kill Keystone he could consider saying that outside experts and even some government experts disagree, but I'm not sure that limits the political damage that much. We could say, so what? Absorb the political hit and save the planet, but that's not a sustainable political strategy. You save it for special occasions.

I think the best messaging Obama could use if he struck down Keystone is that whether the tar sand oil stays in the ground is a political assessment - whether the other modes for moving oil will receive political approval, whether a delay might result in changed Canadian policies just as American policies have changed, and whether the uncertainty over future oil prices is reason enough to stop the approval. Combine that with Obama's message that while we need to use fossil fuels, we should only use the cleanest fuels and there's no question that this stuff doesn't qualify, and he might have a viable political message.

UPDATE:  two additional points. You think Keystone is bad for the climate? Here's what's somewhat worse - a slightly smaller amount of tar sand oil exported by rail. Enviros are betting on a significant decrease in tar sand oil exports in the absence of the pipeline, or else things become even worse than otherwise.

The other is that this issue will still be alive, regardless, for at least part of the 2016 presidential election. If Obama approves Keystone, then resolving inevitable litigation will take at least a year or two, plenty of time for candidates to be asked to weigh in on the litigation and what to do about it. If Obama kills it, some candidates in 2015 will say it's not too late to reverse his decision. I think in reality that January 2017 may be too late, but people might not realize that during the initial part of campaign season.