President Obama faces growing rebellion from within his own party over his decision to further delay authorization for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The administration announced shortly before the Easter holiday that a decision on whether to approve the pipeline was being delayed indefinitely, which translates "until after the November elections."
The Keystone XL pipeline would transport Canadian tar sands oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Environmentalists oppose it based on their view that extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands produces more greenhouse gases than traditional oil exploration and the pipeline would thus contribute to development of the "dirty oil." It's an intellectual stretch, to say the least.
The U.S. Department of State has concluded otherwise, finding that the oil sands will be developed regardless, and transporting that oil via the pipeline will produce far fewer greenhouse gases than trains and other modes of transport currently in use.
Obama's decision to delay was a direct rebuke to 11 Democratic senators who wrote the president days earlier urging him the make a final decision (the desired decision being approval) by the end of May.
His action led one of the letter's signatories, endangered Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, to sharply criticize the president. Landrieu, who happens to chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the delay "irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable." She added, "â ¦the administration is sending a signal that the small minority who oppose the pipeline can tie up the process forever. There are 42,000 jobs, $20 billion in economic activity and North America's energy security at stake."
Landrieu also threatened to take "decisive action" to get the pipeline approved legislatively. That effort is gaining momentum. A bill requiring approval of the pipeline has been introduced in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and one of the bill's sponsors, told reporters Sunday he believes the votes exist in the Senate for a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority to pass the measure. He noted that a similar, non-binding resolution in the Senate last year garnered 62 votes and said, "I still think that vote is there. I really do."
A vote on the measure is expected in coming days, and passage would set up a political showdown between President Obama and some of the most endangered members of his party in the fall election. Some Democratic observers suggest such a vote would give the president political cover to acquiesce without overly offending his backers in the environmental movement, for whom stopping the pipeline is a modern-day golden calf.
But if Obama vetoes the measure, there is serious doubt that there would be enough votes, particularly in the Senate, to override the veto. Such a veto also would almost certainly create enmity between Obama and the group of Democratic senators who believe approval of the pipeline is important to their re-election chances.
The case for approving the pipeline is compelling, for both economic and environmental reasons. We nonetheless predict Obama will veto any bill of approval passed by the Senate, in a show of ideological purity. It would be politically unwise and bad for the country for him to do so, but that seems to be the president's body language at present.
The five-year and counting delay of the pipeline is troubling evidence of the president's ideological indifference to the plight of those seeking a job and the impact of the administration's bad policies on the chances of finding one. A veto of likely Senate approval of the pipeline would put an exclamation mark on that sentiment.