2011-12-16 "Greens call out Keystone XL deal" By DARREN SAMUELSOHN
Senate Democrats accepted a provision Friday forcing a decision in two months on the Keystone XL oil pipeline as part of the must-pass payroll tax cut package, leaving the White House on the brink of a meltdown with environmental groups.
"It's bulls—-," said Sierra Club President Michael Brune. "This is no way to run a government. We've got Republicans in Congress who are willing to hold the entire government hostage simply to give a Christmas present to industry."
GOP and Democratic sources told POLITICO that the White House swallowed the House Republican-written pipeline rider in order to get a deal to extend the tax holiday, jobless benefits and the Medicare reimbursement rate into February.
For greens, the fact that the Keystone pipeline was back on the table five weeks after Obama had seemingly punted it until 2013 is causing considerable heartburn with an administration that hasn't been as green as they once wished.
Their initial win looked even better because it came just days after thousands circled the White House at a weekend protest that drew celebrity faces like actor Mark Ruffalo. But now Obama's environmental allies again face the question of whether to withhold support for his reelection campaign.
“I think everyone will try to take a breath and see what the language is and what the State Department can do,” said Bill McKibben, the organizer of the November anti-Keystone protest. “But I think everyone will also feel really upset. Profoundly upset.”
“People literally put their bodies on the line and they thanked the president when they took him seriously,” McKibben added. “And the president said he was acting on principle and that it was important and if that resolve lasts five weeks and that’s it, if all it takes is Newt Gingrich getting up and expostulating San Francisco and environmental extremists for him to turn around, that’s really sad.”
Jabe Blumenthal, a 2008 Obama donor and former Microsoft executive, said Republicans may end up giving the president the "perfect opportunity" to reject the pipeline if it ends up in the final payroll tax bill.
But Blumenthal, the Seattle-based co-president of Climate Solutions, also had a warning. "If he caves and supports the pipeline, it’s game over for both the climate and my support of the president," he said.
Earlier this week, Blumenthal and Betsy Taylor, a philanthropic adviser to several climate donors and foundations, helped organize a letter to the White House and Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters from more than 85 donors and volunteers from the 2008 campaign urging the president to lead on climate change. Taylor said Obama has a chance to prove his chops.
"If the president waffles on this or fails to act decisively, it will send a huge chill through the community," she said. "Will people vote for him? Yes. Will they work for him, raise money for him and activate their networks for him? Not likely."
While environmentalists applauded the White House for twice rolling out tough new fuel economy limits, it also let them down by embracing offshore drilling just weeks before the BP oil spill. Failing to get a global warming bill through Congress in 2009 has effectively put on ice a idea that had successfully been building momentum for more than a decade. And it didn't help when Obama bailed this summer on long-promised ozone standards.
Brune said earlier this fall before Obama's decision that his group could shift resources to congressional races rather than the White House contest if it didn't approve of the Keystone decision. In an interview Friday, Brune wasn't ready to talk about the political fallout of the payroll tax debate.
Obama has "shown strong leadership" on Keystone over the last month culminating with a recent pledge to reject the House GOP bill if it had the pipeline language, Brune said earlier Friday, before the deal was announced, adding, "We expect him to keep his word."
A senior Obama official noted Friday after the Senate deal was announced that the Keystone pipeline permit likely won't be approved because it forces the State Department to conduct its review at a faster pace than is possible. The official added the Senate deal does not mandate construction of the pipeline.
Anticipating a deal that includes the pipeline, Democrats already were spinning Friday that the language meant little given Obama would still get to make the final decision in two months' time.
With the State Department still in the midst of environmental reviews lasting longer than 60 days, they say the president would seem to have no other choice but to deny the Republicans' call for a quick green light to the 1,700-mile pipeline between Canada and the Gulf Coast.
"I think it's shortsighted for the Republicans to force a decision without giving the president enough time to fully consider it," Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview. "And if they force him to do that, it'd seem to me, the only logical thing for him to do is to say no to it."
"We expect the president to still reject the commencement of the construction of the pipeline until there is a full completion of an environmental review," added Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee. "The 60-day deadline should not lead to the White House approving the actual construction to begin."
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said greens should welcome the pipeline rider given the Obama administration’s statements that it won’t be able to make a decision in 60 days.
"I presume they wanted this project killed," Jentleson said. " It looks like it's going to lead to this outcome."
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said that while he too opposes the Keystone pipeline, he doesn't want greens to use it as a bludgeon against Democrats come 2012. After all, he said environmentalists are partly to blame for a lame turnout last November that put House Republicans in power.
"I'm not unsympathetic with their concerns, but I think frankly their political displeasure is misplaced," Connolly said. "And I think frankly the environmentalists were AWOL last year and now they're paying a price for it. And what did they expect the president to do? He's trying the best he can with a very weak hand and they are in part responsible for that weak hand."
Several Democrats refused to put the blame for Keystone on Obama.
"I don't think it's helpful," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said of the Keystone language. "But this is what happens when you have everything up in the air and, as I say, expectation on the part of a lot of people that what's moving forward may be as good as it gets to sort of hold things together."
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said Obama's overall environmental record shouldn't be dismissed just because of Keystone. She noted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's agenda of putting legislation on the floor almost every week to slap down environmental rules.
"The administration has stood firm, Democrats have stood firm," Baldwin said. "I think any observer would see that Democrats have put a very strong fight up in support of the Clean Air Act, clean water, safe food, etc. And the president has been there with us."
Republicans are making no bones about highlighting the pressure Obama faced from his left. "It's hard not to conclude that this is a political decision, an attempt to avoid having to alienate the liberal anti-energy environmentalist supporters or those who favor the pipeline, like his union supporters," Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said Friday, one of a handful of Republicans to make Keystone-specific floor speeches. "I don't know the politics of it all. All I know is that I cannot find a single reason not to proceed with this."
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said Obama shouldn't be worried about environmentalists come 2012 given their inevitable inclination to vote Democrat. "Leadership requires that you make good solid decisions. And we all have to let the cards fall where they may," he said. "I assume the environmentalists are going to stick with President Obama as opposed to whoever the Republican candidate is just because they do have more trust that he'll follow through with the EPA's agenda. I think they understand that's a dictate from the White House. So, they have a lot to be proud of."
A provision forcing a Keystone XL decision in two months is 'bulls---,' Brune says. | AP Photo