Keystone Follies

by Jonah Goldberg

Jeff Goodell has a piece in the current Rolling Stone which, as the web version notes, went to press before Obama announced his latest punt on Keystone. Goodell writes:

At the same time, the president is likely to announce his decision on the northern leg of the Keystone XL, the hugely controversial 1,179-mile-long pipeline that would bring tar-sands oil down from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. Although no final decision has been made, two high-level sources in the Obama administration told me recently that the president has all but decided to deny the permit for the pipeline – a dramatic move that would light up Democratic voters and donors while further provoking the wrath of Big Oil. Finally, Obama is positioning the U.S. to play a key role in negotiations on a new global-climate treaty that will begin next year, establishing American leadership on climate issues and giving him one last chance to lead the world to a cooler future before he leaves the Oval Office.

A few points. I suppose it’s defensible to call Keystone “hugely controversial.” But it seems like more than a mere oversight not to note that it is also popular, if not quite hugely popular. Indeed, its popularity is at an all-time high with only about a quarter of Americans opposed. So, sure, denying the pipeline — which would be just one of a great many already zig-zagging across the United States — would provoke the wrath of “Big Oil,” it would also provoke the wrath of, you know, the American people. It would also provoke the wrath of many labor unions, including the Laborers International Union whose head recently responded to Obama’s decision to delay the pipeline:

This is once again politics at its worst. In another gutless move, the Administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process — and which has nothing to with the national interest. They waited until Good Friday, believing no one would be paying attention. The only surprise is they didn’t wait to do it in the dark of night.

It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics. Once again, the Administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country. This certainly is no example of profiles in courage. It’s clear the Administration needs to grow a set of antlers, or perhaps take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach.

This is another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security.

Now, I think the benefits of Keystone are a bit overblown by some supporters (and the costs are even more overblown by the opponents). But I also agree with the supporters that it is a no-brainer. What I find fascinating is how Keystone has become a wedge-issue dividing Democrats. It’s a cultural touchstone that separates the lunch-bucket Democrats from elitist 1-percenter liberals. As I note in my column today, the dilemma for the Democrats is that climate change has become a radically ideological imperative that sees any meaningful economic or political compromise as an unacceptable defeat. Tom Steyer is to environmentalism what the John Birch Society was to anti-Communism; even the slightest accommodation of political reality is a categorical surrender. It’s a mindset that Republicans should be able to exploit to their — and the country’s — benefit for years to come.