oil refinery

One of America’s many gorgeous oil-processing facilities.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made an announcement yesterday. (If you aren’t hooked by that intro, I don’t know what it would take.) For the first time in over three decades, the United States is poised to permit construction of a new oil refinery. From the Interior Department’s announcement:

As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to expand domestic energy production, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced approval of a ‘land-into-trust’ application from the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. Today’s action is one in a series of necessary approvals that will enable the tribes to build the first U.S. refinery in decades, supporting American made energy — including domestic resources from the Bakken Formation — while also creating jobs. …

If all required approvals are granted, the proposed MHA Nation Clean Fuels Refinery would be the first new refinery built in the United States in more than 30 years. … As proposed, the 13,000 barrel-per-day facility would refine Bakken Formation crude oil into diesel fuel, propane and naptha products for the U.S. market. Since the President took office, domestic oil and gas production has increased each year, with domestic oil production currently at an eight year high, and natural gas production at its highest level ever.

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Emphasis added, to make a point. And I omitted the second paragraph, which quotes Salazar mentioning the president, “all-of-the-above,” and jobs. Again.

The shorter version of Salazar’s statement: Go vote for my boss! After all, in three and a half weeks, voters head to the polls, and the president wants to secure every possible vote. The new refinery is in North Dakota — a state that will vote for Romney by about 114 percent — but the Obama campaign certainly hopes there might be one or two voters in Ohio or Florida who will hear about this and be knocked off the fence into his arms. It’s politics.

Politics has weird ripples. Earlier today, a group released a petition calling on the president (or rather, as BuzzFeed notes, his campaign) to pull his TV ad touting support for coal.

The campaign will never, ever do that. For the next month (as for the last five or six), politics trumps ideology. The president’s mission is to be elected, not to be consistent. While his opponent has embraced this strategy more robustly, every candidate, Obama included, works to nuance his or her positions to appeal to the electorate. Despite recent insistence that elected officials can campaign on the climate, there simply isn’t enough political cover for the president to run on an explicitly anti-coal agenda in swing states. Even if he wanted to, which there’s not a lot of evidence that he does.

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(It’s possible that the group calling for the ad to be pulled isn’t naive, that it is leveraging the campaign to make a point about coal. If that’s the case, it should be more explicit in making the case against coal on the petition website. Which is to say: I don’t think that’s what it’s doing.)

Politics is the process of convincing voters that you’ll advocate for what they want, coupled with attempts to influence what they want. Salazar’s announcement — which is obviously a massive step in the wrong direction, climate-wise — is aimed at achieving the former. The latter is not going to happen three weeks before an election.

The best activists can hope for is that advocacy on the climate comes up next January. “Hope.” That would make a great campaign slogan.

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