— Bud Norman
There’s no telling what the White House’s internal polls are saying, but the travel itinerary says the president is schedule to appear today for yet another energy policy speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, and that says he’s getting very nervous about the recent rise in gasoline prices.
Obama is not popular in Oklahoma. He lost Oklahoma by the widest margin of any state in the last election, a proud distinction that rebuts every dumb Okie joke ever told, and in the most recent voting he lost 15 counties in the Democratic primary. As frequent visitors to the Sooner State, we can attest that there’s even a good deal of loathing toward the president there.
It is safe to assume that Obama feels no particular affection for Oklahomans, either. Aside from their annoying habit of not voting for him, Oklahomans tend to cling to their guns and religion, although not at all bitterly, and have a strange preference for relying on themselves rather than the government. Many of them also work in the oil fields, rather than in a non-profit advocacy group or government-subsidized solar panel factory, and one gets the impression that Obama would find that yet another example of how very gauche they are.
Which is apparently why Obama chose such a far-flung locale for his latest attempt to prove how very pro-oil he really is. After blocking construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which proved wildly unpopular, Obama will announce in Cushing that he’s going to expedite the review process for construction of the southern part of the project that runs through Oklahoma. The construction of that portion is already slated to start by June, Obama’s intervention won’t speed its progress at all, and it still won’t reach halfway to the source of oil due to Obama’s edicts, but the fact that he went to Cushing to announce his new policy should convince a few gullible voters that he’s serious.
A sharp political operative should be able to round up a small hall’s worth of star-struck Obama supporters even in rural Oklahoma, and the president will no doubt get a cheer when he boasts that domestic oil production has increased during his term, but few other Oklahomans will be swayed. Even ABC News is forced to admit that “energy experts say his policies have little to do with those developments,” and most Oklahomans already know that from their friends in the oil business.
— Bud Norman
Politics is often puzzling, but the Obama administration’s decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline leaves us feeling downright nonplussed.
Looking at it strictly as a matter of public policy, which may well be a waste of time, the project seems a good idea. Construction of the $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas was expected to require thousands of workers at a time when millions of workers are in need of a job, and would no doubt have created many more economic benefits over the coming years by increasing the nation’s supply of gasoline and thus limiting its price. The pipeline also would have facilitated the flow of oil from Canada, a nation we have some suspicions about because of its single payer health insurance system, dubious commitment to free speech, and a weird habit of punting on third downs, but one that isn’t prone to terrorism and the other dysfunctions of most oil-exporting countries. Despite its generally friendly disposition toward the United States, Canada will end up selling its oil to China if the pipeline isn’t built, giving an advantage to America’s main economic competitor.
On the other hand, the arguments against the project are not persuasive. The State Department cited concerns about the pipeline’s possible effect on the “uniquely sensitive terrain of the Sand Hills in Nebraska,” but the risk of environmental damage to that gloriously rough and empty region is likely overstated, and we see no reason they couldn’t have found an alternate route. Some environmentalist have more frankly objected to project on the grounds that it will result in gasoline, which they regard as the leading cause of an impending apocalypse, but they can offer no reason to believe that the use of gasoline in China is less harmful to the planet than its use here.
Looking at it as a political issue, which usually provides some explanation for a politician’s conduct, only leaves us more perplexed. Republicans in congress and on the presidential campaign trail have charged that Obama’s decision was politically motivated, but we can’t see how it will benefit him in the coming election. Stopping the pipeline pleased environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, who told Reuters that “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,” but he and any like-minded voters will end up pulling the lever for Obama in any case. We also wonder how many like-minded voters there are, as the vast majority of Americans, including Obama’s supporters in the unions, love the planet but prefer their jobs, and are “green” enough to sign a petition or slap a “Save the Earth” bumper sticker on their sports utility vehicle but draw the line at paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline.
Most confusing of all, though, is that the Republicans who wanted the pipeline are responsible for it not being built, and that the president who is once again a hero to his environmentalist supporters for not building it should also get credit for wanting to build it. Administration officials told the National Journal that the 60-day deadline imposed by congress as part of that convoluted tax payroll cut extension last year forced the White House to say no, and that the company backing the project is welcome to start the whole review process all over again. The National Journal calls this “trying to thread a needle between two segments of the base split over the pipeline,” and we have no idea what to call it except maybe audacious.
— Bud Norman