Home Energy and Environment What President Obama Should Say About the Keystone XL Pipeline

What President Obama Should Say About the Keystone XL Pipeline


(I really can’t see any possible excuse for approving this monstrosity – even WITH whatever actions President Obama can take without any new legislation. Short answer: no, do NOT approve Keystone, end of story. – promoted by lowkell)

The president faces a dilemma. He is being pressured to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the need for energy and because of the huge moneyed interests behind it. He is being pressured to block the pipeline because of the project’s potential contribution to climate change and the fierce opposition to Keystone in much of the environmental movement.

It is likely that President Obama will approve the pipeline. This would be unfortunate because the issue of climate change deserves far more weight than it gets in our political process, and the fossil fuel industry should have far less clout.

However, there’s a way the President could mitigate the political damage he would suffer from either side while helping to direct our public conversation to what needs to be done to prevent climate change.  The president should say:

“I will approve the Keystone XL pipeline, but only as part of a comprehensive package of measures to deal with the problem of climate change, a plan about which our children and grandchildren could say, ‘They did what we needed them to do.’

The president is often held hostage by his political opponents. Two can play at that game.

By reframing the argument, the president would move the spotlight from himself to Congress, pressuring it to deal responsibly with a clear and present danger.

Approving the pipeline in isolation would be irresponsible. Approving it in conjunction with only what the president can do about climate change by himself would be weak. Approving it as part of a good overall plan would be responsible. And good politics.

Andy Schmookler, recently the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia’s 6th District, is an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher.  His books include The Parable of the Tribes:  The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.  He lives in Shenandoah County.

  • AndySchmooklerforCongress

    Over on Daily Kos, this piece of mine has stirred up a hornets’ nest of hostility based on a thicket of misunderstanding.  So let me pre-emptively say, in case it’s necessary here as well, that:

    1) I oppose the pipeline, and recognize its importance.  (My wife got herself arrested in front of the White House last March, intentionally, demonstrating against this pipeline.)

    2) I’m fully aware of the urgency of the climate change issue, about which I’ve been writing since 1975. That’s my whole reason for writing this.

    What I’m trying to do is propose a method by which Obama might take a stronger stand than he’s likely in fact to take, while minimizing the political damage he’s likely to suffer when he frustrates the energy companies and the Republican Party who serve them.

    Politics is not about just going straight at the “right thing.”  It’s about finding the way to help the right thing prevail in a field of often hostile forces, before an audience of citizens who are often uncomprehending or motivated toward other than the “right thing.”

    I’m reading a recent two-volume biography of Lincoln these days. The subtlety of the course by which Lincoln managed to free the slaves, from the beginnings of the war through to the passage of the 13th Amendment, is astonishing. He did not go straight at it.  

    He was denounced both by the anti-slavery forces and the white racists of the Union throughout his presidency, but ultimately he got the job done.

    Looking at all it took to do it, and the patience and cunning and strategic wisdom Lincoln applied, I am not at all sure who else could have achieved it.

    Bringing America from where it is now to where the threat of climate change requires us to be is going to take just as much subtlety, cunning, strategy, and moral force as did the freeing of the slaves.