I’ve been receiving e-mails from readers in the past weeks insisting that Obama would kill the pipeline planned to bring “oil sands” oil from Canada to the U.S. Given the Obama administration’s policies to date, such expectation was reasonable.
The environmental movement made the oil sands pipeline a line in the, er, sand.
The State Department gave a crucial green light on Friday to a proposed 1,711-mile pipeline that would carry heavy oil from oil sands in Canada across the Great Plains to terminals in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.
The project, which would be the longest oil pipeline outside of Russia and China, has become a potent symbol in a growing fight that pits energy security against environmental risk, a struggle highlighted by last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
By concluding that the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline would have minimal effect on the environment, President Obama would risk alienating environmental activists, who gave him important support in the 2008 election and were already upset by his recent decisions to expand domestic oil drilling and delay clean air rules. Pipeline opponents have protested in front of the White House for a week, resulting in nearly 400 arrests.
But don’t get your hopes too high. This all could be an election cycle head fake, because State Department approval hardly ends the matter:
The project still must clear several hurdles, including endorsement by other federal agencies, additional studies, public hearings and consultation with the states through which the pipeline will pass. But all signs point to the Obama administration approving the project by the end of the year, perhaps with modifications.
My prediction? Final project approvals will get delayed until after the 2012 election, with Obama keeping the environmental movement in line with a nod and a wink and some private messaging from surrogates:
Despite claims that a final decision is yet to be made, today’s environmental impact assessment virtually guarantees the State Department will approve the project by the end of the year. But environmental activists are not discouraged—and are placing their bets on President Barack Obama.
Bill McKibben, who has been leading the civil disobedience outside the White House, said “we knew from past experience that State might do something like this, which is why we’ve always said it’s going to be Obama’s call. They can’t get the climate science right, but maybe they can get the politics right.”
Sometime after the 2012 election, assuming Obama wins, the project will be killed. Unexpectedly.