Saturday, February 15, 2014

Obama's political key for rejecting Keystone

Thought I'd take a break from checking Rabett Run every half hour for Eli's groundbreaking post on or after February 30, and write about something else.

Obama's in a bind on Keystone, with the State Department finding that it won't have much of a climate effect because the oil would otherwise just get out by rail and get burnt anyway. Keystone proponents will say his "own experts" are saying that it passes the test Obama set for it.

If Obama wanted to kill Keystone he could consider saying that outside experts and even some government experts disagree, but I'm not sure that limits the political damage that much. We could say, so what? Absorb the political hit and save the planet, but that's not a sustainable political strategy. You save it for special occasions.

I think the best messaging Obama could use if he struck down Keystone is that whether the tar sand oil stays in the ground is a political assessment - whether the other modes for moving oil will receive political approval, whether a delay might result in changed Canadian policies just as American policies have changed, and whether the uncertainty over future oil prices is reason enough to stop the approval. Combine that with Obama's message that while we need to use fossil fuels, we should only use the cleanest fuels and there's no question that this stuff doesn't qualify, and he might have a viable political message.

UPDATE:  two additional points. You think Keystone is bad for the climate? Here's what's somewhat worse - a slightly smaller amount of tar sand oil exported by rail. Enviros are betting on a significant decrease in tar sand oil exports in the absence of the pipeline, or else things become even worse than otherwise.

The other is that this issue will still be alive, regardless, for at least part of the 2016 presidential election. If Obama approves Keystone, then resolving inevitable litigation will take at least a year or two, plenty of time for candidates to be asked to weigh in on the litigation and what to do about it. If Obama kills it, some candidates in 2015 will say it's not too late to reverse his decision. I think in reality that January 2017 may be too late, but people might not realize that during the initial part of campaign season.


Dano said...

I still think he's going to approve it. Nothing I see contradicts my hunch.



Susan Anderson said...

But we can hope that common sense and self-preservation will kick in, despite the delusional political atmospherics.

Anonymous said...

The way he talks about economic growth all the time I think he has gone over to the dark side. I'm not sure he even wants to kill it, this way he has an out and can say "I tried to stop it" while he covers up his creeping Republicanism.

arch stanton

Brian said...

I'm sticking with my earlier prediction that Obama approves before November, or else he kills it. Best time to approve would be just as summer driving season kicks in. By mid-October, approval seems more nakedly political, so I'll shorten the window a tiny bit.

He said positive things about Keystone in 2012, so killing it would be something of a reversal.

riverat said...

I think it's likely he will approve the pipeline but I'm not sure it really matters. This problem needs to be attacked from the demand side. As long as there is enough demand the tar sands will be mined and delivered one way or another. Once demand for petroleum drops enough the tar sands will no longer be economical to extract.

Jim Lovejoy said...

Is there any way he could approve it with the condition the oil stays in the US?

Not that that would make the pipeline a good thing, but it should buy us time, as the oil companies pipeline etc, first refuse to go along, then lobby to reverse the requirement.

For almost everyone, the twisting the Rs do to try to reverse the restriction and simultaneously claim they want the pipeline for US energy security would be very revealing.

-n said...

Leaving aside the question of whether Obama is willing/able to apply a condition that the oil stay in the US, would that even make sense for a commodity? If the Keystone oil is destined for export due to whatever reason (say, higher demand/better prices for that kind of oil elsewhere in the world), the company can simply say "fine, we won't export the Keystone oil; we'll export this other oil instead." Once it's in the commodity pool, it's basically impossible to place meaningful restrictions based on its origin, isn't it?

Dano said...

Is there any way he could approve it with the condition the oil stays in the US?

There's a lot of sunk cost in export terminals-refineries on the Gulf. There'd be hell to pay if there were no exports.



Anonymous said...

Whatever decision and timing personally helps Obama the most will define his timing and his choice.


It is hilarious to see all the Obama fan boys think otherwise.


Hank Roberts said...

I continue to suspect it's the right-of-way, not the tar, that's the real prize here. Once a right-of-way is established, it's useful for other purposes. I recall old little-used railroads became valuable as routes for optical fiber a while ago -- no need to negotiate with every little local government when you can use the existing right-of-way end-to-end. Used for railroad signaling, used for any other signal needing a path.

So what else is there that could usefully move along a right-of-way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico?

How about fresh water?

What's that sucking sound?

GregH said...

February 30th?

dz alexander said...

// whether a delay might result in changed Canadian policies just as American policies have changed, //
This mind be a topic for the current "3 amigos" meeting. Harper has justified his lack of action by asserting that Canada can't do much without U.S. action. Time to put up.

// How about fresh water? //
If the brown route [Manitoba, Dakotas] is chosen, that's a real possibility.
That area floods every year & there is plenty of water up north.
The Quebec goverment once proposed to dam James Bay so as to collect fresh water from the rivers & then send it south. A politician's dream yet unrealized --

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:
Doesn't matter if it makes no difference.

It doesn't matter if Saddam is removed from Iraq, there's always some dictatorial regime running some country somewhere.

But nobody seems to accept that fatalism as the reason why invasion of Iraq should not have gone ahead.

KeystoneXL refused shows that people cannot be bullied by an unaffected majority into letting a few influential people have their way.

Conceding it makes the next case harder to combat in much the same way as letting a terrible-two's temper tantrum make you give them the toy they're ranting for: it encourages them to try the same thing again, and if it doesn't work, that persistence will win in the end.

Making the temper tantrum worse.