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Public Support for Keystone XL and How Big Green Played It All Wrong

March 22, 2012

A new Gallup poll shows Americans in favor of government approval for Keystone XL by a 2 to 1 margin.  Residents of regions where the pipeline will run are the most likely to support it.  The issue has become starkly partisan, with Democrats four times as likely as Republicans to say that the pipeline shouldn’t be approved.  Interestingly, Independents seem to be siding closer to Democrats on this one, with 35% opposed and only 51% in favor, compared with 81% of registered Republicans in favor and 9% opposed.

Thanks to Gallup for recording the obvious: Big Green’s campaign to turn Keystone XL into a big election year political issue has succeeded.  It’s weakened the standing of one of the best environmental presidents since Nixon (yes, Nixon) with the people who care most about environmental progress.  No, Obama hasn’t managed to force through carbon regulation by executive fiat.  But anybody who deals with federal agencies on environmental and energy issues is aware of the sea change that has taken place since the Bush administration.  Officials are far more responsive, regulations are moving forward that had been stalled indefinitely, public participation is up, issues (take coal ash, for example, or air quality for another) that had been backburnered for decades are getting the attention they deserve.  It’s not paradise, it’s politics, but it’s a far cry from the regressive environmental and energy policies we’d get from anybody in the GOP primary.  Did we really need to kneecap this president over this project?

Back in 2010, Keystone XL was undergoing serious scrutiny for pipeline steel quality, emergency response planning, routing issues, and other serious technical matters that had the potential to alter or even shelve the project.  There were administrative challenges contemplated that wouldn’t have involved the presidential permit but would have required re-evaluation of the full length of the project.  Inadequate pipeline siting oversight by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, for example, was a major issue allowed to fall into the weeds by an international tar sands campaign fixated on drawing television cameras and column inches.  There was a deliberate decision in late 2010 to back off of technical research and administrative challenges to fund billboards, big ads in major media, protests, etc.

From where Plains Justice sits out in the Keystone XL route states, good pipeline siting oversight from the federal agency that’s supposed to cover nation-spanning projects is the kind of issue that matters to people who will have to live with the pipeline.  It’s not politics, it’s asking hard questions about risks to our livelihoods and quality of life.  It’s the kind of issue that our U.S. Senators have shown interest in – the same senators who’ve felt compelled in recent months to come out in public support of the pipeline.

Over the last year, many well-intentioned people have spent a lot of time and effort politicizing Keystone XL, to the point where Obama is at the Cushing, Oklahoma oil terminal today, talking about fast-tracking part of the pipeline.  This didn’t have to happen.  It’s neither good politics nor good policy, and the tar sands campaign drove him to it without accomplishing any of its own goals.  Take a bow, folks.


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