As Keystone XL victory looms, a ‘top enviro’ games out how to lose
Over at Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell has a piece gaming out scenarios for the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s worth a read.
Just to briefly recap: There was a cut in payroll taxes. It was set to expire at the end of the year, thus raising taxes on the middle class. Congress wants to extend the payroll tax cut, but they’ve been squabbling about what to include in the extension bill (Republicans are trying to jam in all kinds of unrelated “riders”).
Facing disaster, the Senate finally agreed to a two-month extension, to allow some time to work out the bigger issues. The bill they approved contains a rider that would force Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days.
Everyone expected the House to vote it through as well. Then House GOP radicals rebelled, Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) did as he was told, and the House refused to vote on it. At that point, everyone — the president, pundits, Senate Republicans, your cousin Bob — condemned the House GOP for being a bunch of douchecanoes. The pressure became so intense that, late last week, the House GOP caved and voted through the Senate’s two-month extension.
So the rider is now in effect. Obama’s going to have to make a call on Keystone XL, and soon.
For the record, my strong expectation is that the Obama admin will reject the pipeline, mainly because that’s what both the White House and the State Department said they would do. Never mind “disappointing the base” — backing down so publicly and cravenly so soon after winning the short-term payroll tax victory would just return Obama and Dems to a position of weakness. It would be both tactically and strategically asinine, and while I don’t exactly have boundless faith in the White House political crew, this one seems like a gimme. (Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation has the right idea.)
That said, I want to address one bit in Goodell’s piece that I found incredibly irksome and, if I may, so Typically Liberal. It seems a “top environmentalist” laid out a scenario by which the White House could do some “fancy footwork” and get away with approving the pipeline.
[Obama] can now go to enviros and say: I gave you mercury regulations, now I’m going to OK the pipeline in order to make my friends in the labor unions happy and get Big Oil off my back. In this scenario, he wins with enviros, he wins with labor, and he gets to point to the pipeline as a big infrastructure project that is creating jobs and keeping Americans working … He keeps Big Oil from hammering him in the election, and — best of all — he doesn’t look captive to enviros.
“Hard-core anti-pipeline activists” will object to this, but “most enviros” will buy it and remain “muted” in their criticism.
“All in all,” says our top environmentalist through Goodell, “it could be a smart political play.”
Horseshit. No it couldn’t. Not only is it six kinds of stupid as a political gambit, it’s an absurd thing for a “top environmentalist” to be musing about with a journalist (especially under cover of anonymity).
It often seems that D.C. enviros have a case of Stockholm syndrome and are taking on the worst qualities of their captors. Thus these serial attempts to join the Church of the Savvy. There’s nothing Beltway-insider liberals love more than speculating, at length and in loving detail, about all the many ways they could be defeated, all the mean things people could say about them, all the risks and pitfalls and monsters under the bed.
Not only is that not their f’ing jobs — their job is to stand up for what’s right — it’s just so crude and clumsy.
First off, let’s be clear: Issuing the mercury rule was not some favor to environmentalists from Obama. The public’s health is not a chit to be traded for favors or concessions, and public-health advocates are not a “special interest” lining up for handouts. The mercury rule was prescribed by an act of Congress, the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, and has been in the works for 20 years. It was court mandated. Nobody owes Obama anything for following the law. That’s his job.
In any case, the social benefits of the mercury rule wildly outweigh the costs to polluting industries. The rule is a modest net job creator. It will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks each year. There’s no substantive argument against it, only a desperate gambit by polluters and politicians to demagogue it. Opting to serve the public interest rather than private pecuniary interests is not “doing something for environmentalists.”
The Keystone XL pipeline is its own decision. It too is about the public interest, not Beltway scorekeeping. It’s pretty clear that the early assessment process for the pipeline was corrupt, so Obama pledged to do a serious environmental review. If he approves the pipeline without one, he will be doing the public a disservice and rendering himself a liar.
Our “top environmentalist” thinks a craven concession on the pipeline will win over environmentalists, unions, and Big Oil. That is delusional. For one thing, it completely misunderstands the Keystone fight. Here’s Brad Johnson:
In reality, this is a fight with environmentalists, climate activists, progressives, ranchers, farmers, and unions on one side and the oil industry on the other. The environmental movement is unified against the tar sands pipeline, whereas labor is split — AFL-CIO’s member unions are in disagreement about the project, with the Building Trades in favor and the Transit Unions opposed. The Building Trades signed a labor agreement with TransCanada in 2010, and were promised 13,000 jobs. Now independent analyses expect about 1,000 temporary construction jobs to be created, a meager benefit for civilizational risks.
As for Big Oil, giving them Keystone XL will be like tossing chum in the water. The sharks will circle. The right is in an unbreakable political alliance with polluting fossil-fuel industries. It doesn’t matter if Obama avoids another Solyndra, or even if he never had one. It doesn’t matter if he presides over record growth in U.S. oil drilling. It doesn’t matter if he caves on offshore drilling or the smog rule or Keystone XL. Polluting fossil-fuel industries and their political representatives in the Republican Party will attack Obama as an energy-hating socialist in hock to extreme environmentalists. No. Matter. What. (Luvagod, read my post-truth politics essay, or if you like, Paul Krugman’s.)
So no, a cave on Keystone XL would not “keep Big Oil from hammering him in the election.” It wouldn’t pacify the grassroots anti-Keystone movement. It wouldn’t “win unions.” It wouldn’t win anybody, or anything. It would be a spectacular example of Democrats snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, thinking their way into submission without Republicans even having to bare their fangs.
Right now, the GOP is in abject disarray. In their flailing, an extraordinarily petulant and self-defeating House GOP caucus has teed Obama up for another victory. They are killing the pipeline for him. All he has to do is let them — and then make sure every American understands what happened. It’s a substantive win, a huge boost to his base, and … what? Another talking point for the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Republican Clown Show to use against him? So what? Their screeching has been turned up to 11 for years now. One more bit of static is hardly going to make a difference. Yes, they will use it against him, but if it wasn’t Keystone it would be something else. Trying to “avoid attacks” is a brain-dead reason to do something in 98 percent of cases.
I expect Very Serious Pundits to sit around figuring out how and why liberals are going to lose. That’s all they know how to do; they shuffle their familiar narrative tropes around like senile pensioners playing checkers in the park. Just this once, can liberals try not to play along?