(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/04/hardisty.jpg)In a transparent political sop aimed at radical environmentalists and their big-buck donors, the Obama administration announced it is indefinitely extending the review period for the Keystone XL pipeline. The delay, announced in a Good Friday news dump, will likely push the final decision on the project past the November mid-term elections.
Republicans, red-state Democrats and a top labor union official hammered the move.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, characterized the delay as “nothing short of a stunning act of political cowardice.” Rep. Lee Terry (R-NB) contended it was “shameful,” further explaining that another spring construction season will be lost as result. They were joined by Democrats such as Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK), who contended “there’s no excuse for another delay,” and Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) who was “frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project.”
Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of America (LIUNA) was equally appalled, calling the decision “politics at its worst,” further noting that it represents “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.”
The Obama administration was in the midst of a 90-day review period, during which federal agencies were examining an environmental study provided by the State Department when the delay was announced. That would be the latest study. The State Department has been studying the potential impact of the pipeline for the last six years.
Regardless, they contended they were giving those agencies “additional time,” due in part to litigation taking place before before the Nebraska Supreme Court that could determine the final route. In February, Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled that a 2012 law allowing Gov. Dave Heineman to approve the proposed route through that state was unconstitutional. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s current schedule makes it unlikely the case can be resolved before the election.
O’Sullivan completely rejected that excuse. “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,” he said in a Friday statement.
Another excuse for the delay trotted out by State was the “unprecedented number” of new public comments, totaling nearly 2.5 million received during a separate comment period ending in early March. “The Permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” the Department said. State has jurisdiction over the issue because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border.
The latest delay infuriated 11 Democrats, who only days earlier had sent Obama a letter urging him to make a final decision by May. The letter noted that the process surrounding the project “has been exhaustive in its time, breadth and scope.”
Their pleas were effectively ignored by the administration, despite the fact that the non-decision leaves many Democrats vulnerable in a year where their current hold on the Senate looks increasingly tenuous. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who is desperately fighting to save her seat in the upper chamber, was especially incensed. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” she said. “By making it clear that they will not move the process forward until there is a resolution in a lawsuit in Nebraska, the administration is sending a signal that the small minority who oppose the pipeline can tie up the process in court 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 this pipeline permit approved.”
That’s unlikely to happen. While the Senate last year voted 62-37 on a non-binding amendment to approve the project, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) probably won’t upset the administration’s political strategy. It is one that ostensibly mitigates the political damage for Democrats in oil states, since no decision is better than an outright rejection of the project. At the same time, the delay keeps the Democrats’ environmentalist constituency happy, along with big-bucks donors like billionaire hedge-fund operator Tom Steyer, who has pledged to spend $100 million supporting Democrats who champion tough legislation to combat climate change.
As Landreiu and her 11 fellow Democrats have indicated, the first part of the strategy is flawed. As an exhaustive exposé by Powerline’s John Hinderacker published yesterday reveals, the second part of the strategy is on shaky ground as well. Hinderaker chronicles the machinations of Farallon Capital Management L.L.C., a hedge fund founded by Steyer in 1986. It made billions—from thermal coal production. “Today, he is a bitter opponent of fossil fuels, especially coal,” Hinderaker explains. “That fits with his current economic interests: banning coal-fired power plants will boost the value of his solar projects.”
Steyer isn’t alone in promoting such monumental hypocrisy. On January 31, the State Department released its own report of its final environmental impact study. It stated that the Keystone XL pipeline will not increase carbon emissions.
Sheer reality animated that decision. New Jersey’s Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran connects the dots. “This oil will get to market, one way or another,” he writes. “Canada can build substitute pipelines to either coast, feeding demand in China or Europe, or both….In other words… the oil will still be burned. That is the rock-hard reality these environmentalists do not want to face.”
It is a rock-hard reality that seemingly works to Republican advantage. Even though labor unions invariably align themselves with Democrats, LIUNA has distributed a letter in the districts of 27 House Democrats, urging their members to warn their respective representatives not to oppose the pipeline. “For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you,” it stated.
Republicans themselves were pushing the notion that Democrats who support the pipeline are nonetheless ineffective legislators, incapable of passing legislation important to the people in their respective states. ”Landrieu has been telling anyone who will listen how influential she is after being named Chairman of the Energy Committee, but it turns out that Landrieu isn’t influential at all,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring in a statement released Monday. He continued, “Landrieu isn’t alone. The Keystone delay simply reinforces how ineffective, powerless and without influence Senators like Mark Begich, Mark Udall, Mark Pryor, Mark Warner and Kay Hagan are. Just a week prior to the President’s announcement, these Senators ‘urged’ President Obama to approve Keystone, a plea which he proceeded to blatantly and publicly ignore.”
Republicans have also made the connection between Reid and Steyer. An ad produced by American Commitment blasts Reid for attacking the conservative Koch brothers, even as he gets in bed with the the Steyer Brothers, Tom and Jim. The RNC also characterized the Democrats’ all-night conference on climate change in March as tantamount to renting out the Senate floor to Steyer in exchange for much-needed campaign cash. “Last night’s talk-a-thon was nothing more than payback for Steyer’s donations to the Democrat Party,” they said in a statement. “Either Mr. Reid or the Democrat Party needs to reimburse taxpayers for their campaign stunt.” The _Washington Post_’s Ed O’Keefe echoed that assessment at the time. “There is another more political reason for the decision by Senate Democrats to devote their time to the [climate change] issue right now,” he contended. “And that issue is campaign cash.”
Unsurprisingly on Sunday, the ever-reliable DNC Chair and Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz denied the Obama administration’s decision was driven by politics. “As a member of Congress who represents hundreds of thousands of people in south Florida, I want to make sure the right decision is arrived at and that the president makes that decision carefully and doesn’t factor politics into his decision, which I don’t think he is,” she assured “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. She further insisted Obama doesn’t need to shore up his political base to keep the Senate from falling into GOP hands. “Take a look at the 2012 U.S. Senate results,” she declared. “You have in almost half of the Senate races that we had an open seat, the Democratic candidate won even though Mitt Romney won that state. So, you know, the predictions that we are headed for the minority in the United States Senate really don’t line up with the historical situation on the ground in those campaigns.”
One suspects the thousands of Americans who have worked on pipeline projects in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where LIUNA members are employed, aren’t buying it. One Pittsburgh-area contractor in the involved in the fracking-inspired oil boom explained why. “It has created more work for our business. There’s jobs here for the first time in many, many years. Legitimate, good-paying jobs,” said Alex Paris, head of a firm founded by his grandfather in 1928.
Employees were equally impressed. “I’ve probably worked 15 jobs, and none of them nearly as stable as this one, or nearly as interesting,” said Amy Dague, 38, of Wheeling, W.Va. “It’s definitely changed the way I see my future. I see this as long-term employment,” she added.
It is a future Democrats and their environmentalist allies would thoroughly squander, along with our relationship with Canada, which is becoming frustrated by the cynical political calculations involved here. Furthermore, it is an effort doomed to fail. As Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer told Fox News, the oil is coming “whether it be by rail or truck.” In the meantime, Democrats aligned with the Obama administration will continue to make one thing increasingly clear: when it comes to doing right by the overwhelming majority of the American public that supports the pipeline by a nearly 3 to 1 margin, or remaining beholden to crony capitalists and their radical environmental allies, the public gets the short end of the pipeline. Along with the ObamaCare debacle, it’s one more thing the public is sure to remember next November.
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