Political Animal


January 18, 2012 1:00 PM Obama admin nixes Keystone pipeline

By Steve Benen

The Keystone XL oil pipeline has become a major source of partisan wrangling. The project would stretch from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas, posing major environmental risks that made the pipeline deeply controversial.

As of today, the Obama administration has scuttled the pipeline.

The Obama administration was poised on Wednesday to reject the Keystone crude oil pipeline, according to sources, a decision that would be welcomed by environmental groups but inflame the domestic energy industry.

The administration could make its announcement on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline late on Wednesday or on Thursday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. TransCanada Corp. shares slid more than 3 percent after the news.

Republicans, not surprisingly, are outraged, and plan to invest a fair amount of time and energy into complaining about the administration’s decision.

But let’s not forget the timeline of events here — and the direct role Republicans played in making today’s announcement happen.

In November, with administration officials exploring the advantages and disadvantages of the Keystone XL pipeline, they announced that a final decision would require more time and analysis. In particular, agencies wanted to study potential alternate routes that would steer clear of sensitive habitats and water supplies.

Not good enough, Republicans said. As part of the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, GOP officials demanded an expedited decision on the project. “Forget the studies,” Republicans argued. “We want a decision now.”

“Fine,” the Obama administration is effectively responding today. “The answer is no.”

I’d argue that this is the outcome Republicans wanted all along. The GOP didn’t really want the pipeline; they wanted the ability to whine about the absence of the pipeline. This wasn’t, in other words, about energy production; this was about creating an issue for the 2012 campaign.

Indeed, Republicans were told this would happen. A month ago, the State Department said an arbitrary deadline, imposed by GOP lawmakers, would cut short the review process, deny officials access to relevant environmental information, and very likely leave officials “unable to make a determination to issue a permit for this project.”

The GOP didn’t care. It’s a reminder that congressional Republicans don’t want to govern so much as they want to play games.

By the way, we’re likely to hear from the right that this project would have created 20,000 jobs. Nonpartisan estimates suggest that figure is wildly inflated, and one independent report concluded that “the project could actually destroy more jobs than it creates.” Something to keep in mind.

As for the left, environmental activists deserve to take a bow. Their work on this helped raise the visibility of the issue, and the pressure no doubt affected White House attitudes. Bill McKibben, 350.org founder and Keystone XL protest leader, issued a statement this afternoon, lauding President Obama. “[T]his isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call,” McKibben said. “The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked political threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences,’ he’s stood up strong.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Cybrguy on January 18, 2012 1:15 PM:

    Good for you, Mr President. Don't let the bastards force uninformed or unnecessarily accelerated decisions with political pressure. Take your time and make your decision based on the facts and not political expediency.

    There is a reason we chose this man to lead this country. Thank you for proving us right, again.

  • Texas Aggie on January 18, 2012 1:15 PM:

    It's so difficult to decide whether to actively support Obama or not. On one hand he destroys Constitutional rights by signing the last military appropriation bill and on the other, he does something like this that indicates he is basically willing to take the hit for doing something right. The only thing I can say is that he is head and shoulders above any of the republican candidates, especially the serial killer, Romney, the murderer of a whole host of "people".

  • Greg Worley on January 18, 2012 1:27 PM:

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that the crude in the pipeline is all destined for China. Can anyone confirm this? If so, seems to me that this is a great basis for a response to the Repug nonsense.

  • chi res on January 18, 2012 1:29 PM:

    But...but...but OBAMA SOLD US OUT!!! He single-handedly DESTROYED America's environment!!! He CAVED on the pipeline!!!

    I know it's TRUE because all the so-called "progressives" were screaming about it only a month ago!

    And yeah, the same thing for those who are whining that Obama "destroys Constitutional rights".

  • pamelabrown on January 18, 2012 1:29 PM:

    As you write this, I wouldn't be the least surprized that Romney's out on the stump accusing the president of killing a gazillion jobs.

  • TCinLA on January 18, 2012 1:30 PM:

    Texas Aggie:

    I have had similar thoughts to yours, and have made my decision. Consider all the articles the Washington Monthly has published this month about what would happen with a Republican in the White House, Republicans taking control of the Senate and keeping control of the House. I know Obama isn't great, I was terribly disappointed in him after raising $350,000 for him in 2008, and reading over at TPM a first-hand account of how they fought us harder than they fought the GOP over health care reform doesn't make me particularly happy.

    I am, however, unwilling to allow these Southernist traitors (that's not "southerners," it's those who subscribe to the Confederate ideology) to overthrow the progress of the past 150 years.

    I remember too well going along with "Dump the Hump" in 1968. What did we get? Richard Nixon. Extended war crimes in Southeast Asia. The Watergate crisis. Effectively, we helped set up the past 40 years of these scum with our "purity of purpose." With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I think an argument can be made that Hubert H. Humphrey was not the "monster" he was portrayed as, that he would have ended the war, that we would never have had the assault on the country that was the Nixon Administration's legacy, and that we would be a far different country today. Exactly what I would want? Probably not, but likely a whole lot closer than it is.

    Learn from our mistake. Obama isn't great, but as you yourself say, "he is head and shoulders above any of the Republican candidates." Losing this election will tear us apart completely. We cannot risk that.

    Personally, I think the Keystone decision is far more important than a provision in the appropriations bill that will be unused, one that can be undone if we get a majority back in Congress.

  • Anonymous on January 18, 2012 1:30 PM:

    Environmentalists need to do more than take a bow. They need to help defend the administration's decision from the onslaught of nonsense the Republicans.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 18, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Here we go again with Obama destroying jobs in the U.S.

    Our oil and coal industries tell us that there is no global climate change; therefore there is no global climate change.

    Our oil and coal industries tell us that the Keystone XL pipeline would cut American energy costs, create zillions of jobs, and protect the environment; therefore, the XL pipeline should be approved.

    The energy industry has already one hell of a lot of money telling the ameriKKKan sheeple this! We know that they would not lie nor would they waste all that money on advertising if it were not true.

    After all, our next president Mitt Romney has assured us that lies should never be told in advertisements!

  • rollotomasi on January 18, 2012 1:42 PM:

    The Republican NE governor also opposes the pipeline - in his state anyway.

    The issue which gets lost in this discussion is that Tar Sands is the most expensive and least efficient way to access petroleum. It can only be profitable if crude prices are artificially inflated - which they are. The consumer gets gauged without knowing it.

  • R on January 18, 2012 1:43 PM:

    @Anonymous: Here's what Bill McKibben has been up to since the protests he helped organize (and for which he deserves to take a huge bow): http://www.salon.com/2012/01/05/the_political_power_of_being_naive/singleton/ So I think he's already on it.

    And when you say "Environmentalists," are you including yourself? If not, why not?

  • SecularAnimist on January 18, 2012 1:45 PM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "the Obama administration has scuttled the pipeline"

    No, Obama has not "scuttled the pipeline".

    In fact, he has invited TransCanada to submit an alternative pipeline route for his administration to approve -- after the election, of course.

    Obama is simply doing what he already wanted to do: delay the approval of the pipeline until after the 2012 election, so as not to further alienate environmentalists whose votes he needs.

    After the election, when Obama no longer needs the environmentalists' votes, the Obama administration will approve the pipeline.

  • RollaMO on January 18, 2012 1:46 PM:

    Is this the end of the story? I thought they were being allowed to re-apply with an alternate route around sensitive areas in Nebraska.

  • SadOldVet on January 18, 2012 1:46 PM:

    Many of us have been very disappointed with Obama over the last 3 years!

    We still need to work our @sses off getting him reelected.

    If Romney is elected, the question for american workers is not whether we are f*cked, but how badly are we f*cked!

  • booch221 on January 18, 2012 1:51 PM:

    Probably a smart move on Obama's part. This way a ploy to divide his support of labor and environmentalists.

    Labor will be pissed but they will stick with Obama. Do you really expect them to support the party of the Koch brothers, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and all the other Republicans who have declared war on organized labor?

    Is a pipeline really dead? Can Obama come back and propose a new pipeline route next year?

  • Stewart on January 18, 2012 2:03 PM:

    Actually, you're wrong.

    The appropriations bill, as you are probably aware (but most people are not) funds the entire DoD for the next year. Vetoing the bill because of sections 1031/1032 would mean vetoing EVERYTHING ELSE in it. Troop pay would just be the tip of the iceberg.

    And actually, the version of sections 1031/1032 in the final bill does not extend the power of indefinite suspension the government already has (as authorized both by the Patriot Act and judicial review by the supreme court). It also expires after 1 year. It actually doesn't even grant as much power as the laws currently on the books do (Patriot Act).

    In the original versino of the bill that Obama threatened to veto, and that was drafted by Senators Levin and McCain, these sections extended the powers of indefinite suspension already granted to the government and also MANDATED they be used.

    Secitons 1031 and 1032 in the final bill do not make things better, but they also do not make things worse. Signing the bill does not mean Obama supports sections 1031 and 1032. Indeed, he explicitely mentions his opposition in his signing statement. But there are other laws on the books that grant the same powers as those outlined in sections 1031 and 1032 (and don't expire after a year) so a veto of the bill or the removal of the sections entirely would not change existing law, actually. It would be pointless. Except for the fact that you can't veto sections 1031 and 1032 without vetoing the entire appropriations act for the department of defense for fiscal year 2012.

    The original versions of sections 1031 and 1032, if passed, would have (for 2012 only) strengthened the indefinite suspension powers the government had, and also mandated them.

    I'm sure you're operating under the following logic: "Protecting civil liberties is far more important than any troop pay that would be lost from the failure of passage of the NDAA. Therefore, if Obama does not support sections 1031 and 1032, he should veto the National Defense Appropriations Act. If he supports these sections, he should sign it." But if sections 1031 and 1032 already exist in US law then vetoing the NDAA over sections 1031 and 1032 is an empty gesture with regards to blocking sections 1031 and 1032.

    When a bill is voted on, or signed/vetoed, what should be considered is how it changes existing law. If a section doesn't change existing law, it is redundant, and its passage or failure is inconsequential.

    You want an official record on the topic of indefinite detention policy specifically and in isolation?

    For Obama specifically: Read his signing statement
    For the Senate: Look at the roll call for the Udall amendment. Unlike the roll call for the entire bill, this vote isolated the issue of indefinite detention, and attempted to strip the provisions from the bill. As you can see, most dems opposed the provisions (over 2:1), and republicans almost unanimously supported the provisions. The amendment to remove the provisions thus failed. http://www.opencongress.org/vote/2011/s/210

    In general: Look at interviews, debates, speeches, and how politicians vote on issues when they are isolated. The roll call on bill amendments can give you a pretty good idea for a lot of hot topic issues, but most people don't seem to understand the nuance of voting for a bill versus supporting a specific provision in the bill versus thinking a certain provision is the best course of action versus thinking a provision sucks but is an improvement over standing policy. Context, people. Context.

    I've seen so many people criticize the bill for the damage it does to civil liberties when it doesn't actually do any damage, who demanded obama vetoed the bill and run the risk of doing ACTUAL DAMAGE by denying paychecks to hundreds of thousands of federal employees ( by blocking the treasury from being authorized to fund the DoD), among other things. The provisions didn't give the government the power to detain citizens. They stated a power the government already has (that it shouldn't), and were attached to a "must pass" bill to make obama look bad. The bill's passage or failure doesn't change anything thing about the legality of indefinite detention. You, and many others, were demanding that Obama overlook the consequences of the bill's codification or failure and that obama focus instead on making a symbolic gesture. He's not a protestor. He's the President. You want him to protest? Well he gave you a signing statement, but that's one empty gesture that seems to have been lost.

    It'd be like if obama vetoed the health care bill for banning federal funds from being used for abortion. That's already on the books elsewhere in the US code. So if obama vetoed, the US Code would ban federal funds from being used for abortion. If obama signed, the US Code would ban federal funds from being used for abortion. Whether obama should sign or veto comes down to the CHANGES the bill makes. It's the exact same situation with sections 1031 and 1032 of the approprations bill.

  • Ron Byers on January 18, 2012 2:04 PM:

    Obama saw an opening and he took it. Big oil has done a piss poor job selling the pipeline. (I think I could have sold it with the right PR campaign but they should have started a year ago.) Obama has energized his environmental base by standing tall. Scott Walker and the rest of the crazy midwestern governators have energized labor by their over reach.

    If the President has been playing for 2012 all along, not fighting in 2010 and sufferiing a tea bag win will prove to be a great political move for 2012.

    All of this is great for Obama, but what about the rest of us? What are the Democrats going to do about the Republican congress? How do we keep the Senate? The party's failure creates a big question mark.

  • chi res on January 18, 2012 2:05 PM:

    After the election, when Obama no longer needs the environmentalists' votes, the Obama administration will approve the pipeline.

    Excellent spin! Now so-called "progressives" can continue to raise lots of money by whining and bashing Obama!

    And when you've convinced enough independent voters to sit on their hands or vote for a republican in November, you can raise tons of moolah by whining about the republican president. (Maybe he'll even bring in as much cash as W did!)

  • Kutab on January 18, 2012 2:09 PM:

    Thank God! Not sure I could have taken another slap like the Plan B decision.

  • Redshift on January 18, 2012 2:14 PM:

    Greg Worley: The oil from this pipeline was destined for the international market, just like pretty much all the oil produced in the world, and it's expected that most of the oil from this pipeline would, for now, be sold to China. The Republicans are just shilling for the oil companies; when it's all run by international corporations, "domestic energy production" has little to do with "energy security."

    Incidentally, I heard a radio story about a pipeline that I think is the backup plan for Keystone, which goes to the west coast of Canada, and it's provoking protests there, too.

  • mphillip on January 18, 2012 2:15 PM:

    ...and the administration said fine, the answer is no.

    I absolutely love this part of the posting because it accurately captures the tone and spirit of the response to the blackmailing repubs.

    Fine. The answer is no.

    I don't know how much the Keystone issue resonates beyond the states directly involved (and Canada), but say Keystone in my little corner of the world and people respond: Huh?

    If this issue is their issue for 2012, I think the repubs might want to find another one.

    Fine. The answer is no.

    As in...


    Congratulations and many kisses to the Administration. And I want to be in the room when Madames Clinton (State Department) and Jackson (EPA) deliver the news personally.

  • jjm on January 18, 2012 2:36 PM:

    Thank you @Stewart for your excellent clarification on NDAA and what it does and does not do.

    I see this repeated over and over on websites devoted to so-called progressives: Obama didn't close Gitmo, he pursues the war on terror, the war on drugs and he assaults civil liberties: the implicit meaning is "vote for Ron Paul."

    Your correctives are much appreciated.

    And as far as I can tell the most damning thing people say about Obama is that he is a 'disappointment.' Yet NO ONE EVER SAYS WHY, and when they do, it turns out mainly to be whining about the public option, even though there was NEVER a majority of Senators, included many conservadems who refused to consider it. But ACA opens the way for the states to craft their own single payer plans, and two already have: Vermont and Montana.

    By the way, on Keystone, Political Correction has a lovely rundown of all the $$$ Boehner has pocketed from industry and lobbyists on the issue. So whose voice is the only one heard on radio news (CBS) today? Guess.

  • Ladyhawke on January 18, 2012 3:17 PM:


    (GOP spare us the crocodile tears and phony outrage)

    If the Republican Party is so concerned about job creation, why have they consistently voted against THE AMERICAN JOBS ACT? Are they saying the pipeline project should be approved no matter what the costs to public safety and the environment? That the administration should just give it a green light and see what happens. Maybe they think there should be no review process at all. That's right, no regulations at all.

    The question I have is if the pipeline is eventually approved the jobs will be created later rather than sooner. But in the meantime, the pipeline is not the only source of job creation. Again, the AJA can create jobs right now for teachers, firefighters, policemen and construction workers.

    This is just look at that shiny object on steroids. The GOP just wanted something to hammer President Obama. They are not interested in governing or job creation. And the reporters are accomplices in this charade.

    Watching the briefing today at the White House it is clear that the press corps was doing a masterful job of carrying water for the GOP. The wringing of the hands, the but but but, the why why why was just amazing. Everyone has selective amnesia about this artificial deadline put into a bill about extending the payroll tax.

    I would much prefer to just have John Boehner sitting in the front row in the briefing room asking Jay Carney the questions. It wouldn't look as unseemly as when the press is the mouthpiece for the GOP.

    If anyone wants to know how many jobs the Republican Party has created, just check out the website below.



    Shortly after gaining the House of Representatives in 2010 the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, made the welcome claim that the primary goal of the Republican Party was to increase employment. His exact words were:

    "We're going to have a relentless focus on creating jobs."

    The following, therefore, is a chronological list of legislative activities by the GOP beginning 2-10-2011. I'm sorry to report that none, so far, have resulted in a single new job being created in America.



  • beep52 on January 18, 2012 3:19 PM:

    Seems to be some confusion on this story. Earlier reports may have been premature (from Reuters):

    Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters the administration could announce its rejection of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline late on Wednesday. But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said later that it has not made a decision on the proposed pipeline.
  • June on January 18, 2012 3:26 PM:

    Yes, thank you @Stewart for that excellent, excellent post! That one's going on a t-shirt! ;)

  • JS on January 18, 2012 3:39 PM:

    Doesn't sound premature from here..

    (via TPM)

    President Obama today released a statement officially detailing why he decided to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project, saying that after he reviewed the State Departmentís report, he agreed:

    This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people. Iím disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administrationís commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.

    (continues at http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/updates/4230 )

    Meep meep.

  • Lex on January 18, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Keystone would create 20,000 jobs, huh?

    Pfft. Not even if you counted the hookers.

  • Furioousd on January 18, 2012 3:49 PM:

    Good stuff, Mr. President.

  • beejeez on January 18, 2012 3:53 PM:

    Dear Secular Animist:

    Chi Res was kinda harsh on you, but it looks to me like your heart is in the right place. You want the Prez to do the right thing. But here's the deal -- his decision on the pipeline at this point is a net loss for him on votes. There are vastly more voters looking for any vaguely plausible reason besides racism to vote against Obama than there are voters who would list the environment in their Top 15 of policy concerns (let alone those for whom it would be the make-or-break issue that would make them prefer a Romney presidency). Next time you're ready to tear Obama a new one because he's supposedly no better than the rest of the bums, you should consider this.

  • 2Manchu on January 18, 2012 4:07 PM:

    Here in Nebraska you had a rather interesting coalition of Sand Hills residents (the reddest part of the state) and local environmentalists who joined together to fight the pipeline.

    What really got the farmers and ranchers on board was the threat a spill would have on the Ogallala Aquifer, the main source of water for much of the state, especially in the Panhandle.

    There were also some questions and criticisms of how Transcanada used eminent domain to strongarm land owners in other states. If you want to really piss off a Nebraska farmer (which includes half my family), screw with their land.

    Anyway, a big win for the great state of Nebraska. And thank the Almighty for Jan Kleeb and Bold Nebraska for all their work during this fight. SHE needs to run for Nelson's seat, not Kerrey.

    And Go Big Red.

  • beep52 on January 18, 2012 4:09 PM:

    re: JS on January 18, 2012 3:39 PM:

    Right you are, and Reuters has taken their story down. But from what I can gather, it's still not an outright rejection of the project. The admin says TransCanada can apply for a new permit after it alters the route. Which is sort of where we were prior to the Republican deadline for a decision.

  • T2 on January 18, 2012 4:23 PM:

    the pipeline needs a new route through less sensitive areas...when that is produced and studied, it can still be built. That's all there is to it. But today's show allows President Obama to make points on the left, and the GOPers to make points on the right....you know- both sides do it.

  • schtick on January 18, 2012 4:33 PM:

    The people are crying how it will create jobs, it's well known that inflated numbers are being used, but who gets the jobs? Americans? Or will Canada bring in their own like American companies do in other countries?
    They are crying how this will stop our dependency on foreign oil. How exactly? It's Canadian oil. It's going across our country to the gulf to be refined then sold and shipped to the world market. How exactly does it benefit the US?
    Who owns this oil company? And who owns the refineries it's going to in the gulf? Who is going to clean up the inevitable oil spills? Who is going to pay for the clean up? Taxpayers? Either in subsidies or the actual cleanup?
    We've already had oil spills like the one in Montana and all the oil companies do is cover it up and lie about it and our government helps them in the cover-up. And none of them can get their lies straight. Even some repub governors are against it.
    In our area, because they are pushing fracking, we get tv ads by Exxon saying how great and clean fracking is and how they use the latest and greatest ideas and equipment to do it. I'd be more impressed if they had ads on how they will use the latest and greatest ideas and equipment to clean it up instead of outdated shit from 40 years ago and stacks of oversized kotex to soak it up.
    OWS should be pushing the oil companies as hard as Wall Street. They lie for the almighty buck and screw everyone in their way. If there is no benefit for the country, only the pockets of the oil barons, then it should be nothing but no for the pipeline and the fracking.

  • sublime33 on January 18, 2012 4:57 PM:

    Forget the environmental impact for a moment. I am just as concerned with whether Keystone is expected to pay for the right of way. Their commercials during the NFL Playoffs implied that this was "our oil". Bulls#@% - it's Keystone's oil, not America's oil. If they want to pay to move the oil across America's property, let's talk. But we as taxpayers shouldn't give this right away for free.

  • Quaker in a Basement on January 18, 2012 5:23 PM:

    The GOP didnít care.

    The Honey Badger Caucus, ladies and gents!

  • Concerned on January 18, 2012 5:50 PM:

    Since Obama showed environmental activists his willingness to listen, I hope the environmental activists show Obama their willingness to volunteer and vote for him.

  • SKM on January 19, 2012 1:14 AM:

    I've read a couple of stories (investigative journalists) at Corpwatch.org - they show pictures of the Native Americans protesting the pipeline, then another story to the right of the screen shows what they say are emails of the lobbyist that were obtained by the FOIA to show the deals going on to get the pipeline approved.

    With the information at Corpwatch - turns out the sands contain jet fuel...they say is much more worse for our environment that any of the gulf spills.

    I believe that if there are spills and contamination from this pipeline, people would definitely be forced to move as the area would be fit to live in.

  • Marco Pazienza on January 19, 2012 11:55 AM:

    Wow! Great article! Like all the comments, you guys give me hope! I guess lying is always the best choice of the house republican leadership! Wednesday speaker Boenher tols 3 outrite lies...he said: Lie #1 "This project will create tens of thousands (TENS OF THOUSANDS LOL), jobs"!
    Fact: Cornell study matches government study in saying that this would create no more than 3 to 4 thousand jobs, many of them temporary.
    Lie #2: "All the states involved want this and are online and ready to go with it"
    Fact: Nebraska, the main player who's state is the most affected is fighting it!
    Lie#3: "It will have little environmental impact."
    Fact: It has numerous environmental dangers/hazards, (oil spills that could endanger the entire Oglala aqifer for one), but mostly the process to retrieve the oil from the sands will cause air quality issues because of all the emissions involved and it takes 80% more energy than traditional methods of extraction for oil/gas to extract it. Which means that it has a huge carbon footprint!

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