Keystone XL puts Obama in a tough spot



The Washington Post has published a feature article on the controversial TransCanada oil pipeline slated to run from Alberta, south through Montana, and all the way to the Gulf Coast. The article offers a thorough summary of the issue — which we've written about here, here, here, here and, sorta, here — and positions it as a surprise campaign clustermess issue for President Obama.

Charles K. Ebinger, a senior fellow for energy at the Brookings Institution, said the issue has “become a test case for the Democrats,” with two factions within the Obama camp asking the same question: “Is he with us or against us?”

“I do think it has become a defining political issue,” Ebinger said. “I don’t think he’s going to win any friends whichever way he goes.”

It's worth reading the entire story, especially if you want to get up to speed on the full history, but here are a few highlights:

- "TransCanada applied in 2008 for a permit to build the pipeline. In the early stages of the process, the pipeline’s backers had plenty of reasons to be optimistic about winning approval. Only one U.S. environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, had an anti-oil-sands project up and running. Not only had TransĀ­Canada won approval for an earlier stage of Keystone, but the State Department approved another oil sands pipeline, Enbridge Energy’s Alberta Clipper, in August 2009."

- "In mid-October, [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club that she and others in the administration were “inclined” to give TransCanada the permit, adding, “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.”

- "By August a group of environmental leaders that included McKibben was able to enlist more than a thousand opponents willing to be arrested outside the White House, including actresses Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder. The two-week demonstration prompted a flurry of calls between White House offices and State, sources said, as administration officials asked to be briefed about the project’s status. ... The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign the same month — which it dubbed the Partnership to Fuel America — to mobilize business owners and associations in key states that would be crossed by the new pipeline. It hired consultants and tapped its own network of state and local chambers to find small businesses that might benefit from the project."

- "Environmental groups have challenged the administration’s integrity. Since Sept. 22, they have released a series of embarrassing e-mails between TransĀ­Canada lobbyist Paul Elliott and State Department officials. The groups, along with several Democratic lawmakers, have also questioned why State retained Cardno Entrix — a consulting firm that counted TransCanada as a major client and which had consulted for TransCanada on a different pipeline — to help prepare the federal environmental assessment and run the agency’s public hearings."

- "Shell sent a note in late September to all of its roughly 20,000 U.S. employees urging them to write to the State Department in support of the project and providing them an address."

- "State Department officials have said they will issue a final decision on the permit by the end of the year; on Nov. 6, McKibben and other activists plan to ring the White House with placards of Obama’s words from the 2008 campaign, including his pledge to free the United States from 'the tyranny of oil.'"

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