Editor’s Notebook: Still Waiting

October 2013, Vol. 240 No. 10

President Obama sure is a cagey fellow; after watching him closely for the past six years I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. So, that leads me to the big question: what exactly is he planning to do with that long-overdue decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline?

It’s been five years since TransCanada proposed building the pipeline which would carry 830,000 barrels of heavy crude from Western Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Good questions have been raised and they have been answered. Nebraskans were concerned Keystone was too close to an essential aquifer so the route was adjusted. That was the big holdup last year and since it arose seven months before the presidential election, there was no way a controversial decision was going to be made.

Obama took a pretty good pounding from the business community and trade unions at a time the economy was lagging. To try and mollify his critics, he went to Oklahoma in May 2012 for a photo op at the site where TransCanada’s pipe was stored prior to construction of the southern leg of Keystone, now nearing completion.

And you know what? The picture of a smiling Obama is still on the White House web site on energy issues. After the election this would be a done deal, I and others thought; Obama would sign the presidential permit required for an international border crossing, but he would also throw out a bone to appease his environmental supporters, namely a crackdown on power plant emissions, coal, under the guise of climate change.
That still may be the case but the pipeline issue is again under review by the State Department, which had previously acknowledged that Keystone was acceptable. A negative report from the EPA and the fact that the firm that did the impact study of the project for the federal government was found to have done other work for TransCanada has caused further delay.

That’s where we are today. Though both sides make claims about the pipeline that are doubtful, most Americans appear in favor of the pipeline. Those opposed are noisy and receive far more media coverage than they deserve because they are actually few in number.

One leader of the anti-pipeline movement is a fellow named Bill McKibben, an expert on honey bees and founder of a group called 350.org, a “grassroots climate campaign.” He is evidently opposed to all fossil fuels but doesn’t offer practical alternatives because there are none. Nor does that keep him from jetting around the world in a conveyance that is one of the biggest emissions violators. He is quite a self-promoter who is accessible to any media people with angst against the petroleum industry like MSNBC, The New York Times, The Huffington Post.

Then there is Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, which leads the local charge against Keystone. Her husband is an entrepreneur who owns a Nebraska company called Energy Power Solutions, which contracts with homeowners, commercial businesses, industry and governments to provide energy-efficient upgrades. Conflict of interest? Probably not. She’s a professional activist/agitator who lives in Nebraska so the Keystone issue couldn’t be better suited or more convenient for her.

Where am I going with this? Whereas I was about 90% sure that Obama would approve Keystone, now I’m at 50%. Here’s why: the breach between the White House and the oil industry is too wide. The industry, especially Big Oil, makes no effort to hide its disdain for Obama. The API under its president Jack Gerard has roundly criticized Obama’s every move.

Gerard was one of the biggest fund raisers for Mitt Romney; it was widely believed that he would become White House Chief of Staff if Romney won. In addition to that, many in the business have also felt that Obama has taken too much credit for the recent successes of the industry.

As I write this, House Republicans may stick an amendment in their stopgap spending bill using Keystone as a negotiating ploy. That’s why I’m saying that if Obama kills Keystone, it won’t be for climate change or any issue related to the actual construction of the pipeline. He’s not swayed by hysterical half-truths on behalf of a few any more than he is by efforts to bully him.

So when I look at him posed in the Oklahoma pipe yard, I can’t tell if he’s serious or merely continuing to tease us, murmuring in the back of his mind, “gotcha.”

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