Monday, December 26, 2011

XL Pipeline Deadline: A Gift from the GOP to Obama?

Will Obama win or lose points in 2012 on the XL pipeline? Do you even know what the XL pipeline is?

Briefly, it's a pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf coast refineries. It's a stupid project, roundly condemned by environmentalists and anyone with half a brain, but the GOP seized on it as a potential campaign issue and inserted it into the just-concluded fight over extending  payroll tax relief and unemployment benefits. As the price for agreeing to the two-month extension of these two vital measures, the GOP included a provision requiring Obama to approve or deny the XL project within sixty days. Prior to this, the administration had announced it would delay a decision until the present environmental studies were complete, probably at least a year.

On the surface it may look like the oil industry and their bought-and-paid for GOP Congressional representatives have scored a victory on the issue. But they didn't. The 60-day provision is a trap, a dog and pony show misguidedly staged by the GOP for the oil industry. It actually makes it easier for Obama to kill the project. In fact, it virtually begs him to kill it!

How? Because sixty days is obviously not enough time to complete the environmental and health studies for the project, and the public can understand that, especially as they learn that the project will possibly endanger the water supply for much of the Midwest. Once Obama has been "forced" by the new deadline to deny the project, it goes all the way back to square one, i.e. the proponents have to start all over with a new filing. All the way back to square one is a long, long way back. This is the kind of delay we environmentalists have always used to obstruct or kill bad projects.

But will Obama actually deny the project when the sixty days are up? There are three indications that he will.

First, he has already countermanded the State Department's premature approval of the project by requiring more study after environmentalists started screaming this fall.

Second, a prominent White House staff person has said Obama is unlikely to approve the project within the sixty-day limit because that's not enough time for environmental review. The staffer speaking was Gene Sperling, director of Obama's National Economic Council. White House team members do not go on record with such statements unless the President concurs. They don't if they want to keep their kneecaps. Also, since Sperling is head of an economic council in the White House, NOT an environmental one, his statement indicates that the White House has decided to go along with the environmentalists in the Democratic party and not with the labor unions that want the pipeline jobs.

Third, two very major Democratic Congressmen have said they have been reassured by the White House
that Obama will turn thumbs down on the project when the sixty days runs out. The Congressmen are no other than Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. These are heavy-duty dudes, and you don't tell them "not to worry" unless you really mean it.

So there you are. The GOP in the House and the oil industry may think they got something with that sixty-day measure, but they got zilch. And they gave Obama a lovely opportunity to score political points, not just with his environmental base, but with lots of Midwest voters who have been worried about their water supply. In fact, because of the GOP drum-beating about the 60-days provision, far more voters are now aware of the pipeline and its potential problems.

And who really set all this up to happen? Rumor is that Obama himself quietly tempted the GOP into the entire trap. If so, he's learned how to set the bait every bit as well as Clinton used to for Newt Gingrich. When Speaker Gingrich seriously goofed and shut down the government back in the day, Clinton's fingerprints were all over it. Like Gingrich, the present House GOP contingent is blinded by its self-bestowed glory and can't resist over-reaching. Suckers!

I'm willing to stick my neck out and offer an early prediction for the New Year: the XL pipeline is not headed for the Gulf coastline in 2012. It's headed for the toaster.

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