Gov. Brian Schweitzer made international headlines last week when he referred to "jackasses" in Washington, D.C., holding up the Keystone XL pipeline. Buried in the same interview, below the governor's colorful commentary of Beltway bureaucrats and a funny description of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he said he'd bet cold hard cash that the pipeline would be built.
As of Tuesday morning, Jayson O'Neill, the governor's communications and policy advisor, confirmed there'd been no takers for the wager.
I told O'Neill I wanted the bet. He said he'd get back to me.
A few minutes later, O'Neill called back and said Schweitzer was in as long as the winner donates the money to his favorite charity. The governor chose the Montana Food Bank Network. Considering the issue, I've chosen the Northern Plains Resource Council, which has been outspoken on the pipeline. We agreed to shake on it next time Schweitzer visits Missoula.
So, why make the bet?
I think I'll win.
The pipeline, which is slated to run from Alberta's tar sands, south through Montana and all the way to the Gulf Coast, faces increasingly strong opposition. Thousands of protesters, including many Montanans, demonstrated outside the White House last year and continue to mobilize. Prominent activists like author Bill McKibben and NASA scientist James Hanson have drawn a line in the sand saying it's a last stand for the climate change movement, and have backed that up with considerable action.
Last month, President Obama, pressured from both sides of the debate during an election year, denied TransCanada's permit to build the pipeline. The oil company remains committed and will soon reapply for the permit, but doesn't think it'll be up and running until 2015.
Some believe it could even happen sooner. Just the other day the Obama administration gave TransCanada the green light for a separate pipeline stretching from Oklahoma to Texas, an approval that could signal Schweitzer has this bet in the bag. Plus, with so many politicians advocating for the pipeline — locally, Schweitzer is joined by Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, as well as Rep. Denny Rehberg, in support of the project — there's talk of a legislative work-around, like attaching Keystone approval to a federal transportation bill. Of course, McKibben and co. responded to that threat by gathering signatures from anti-Keystone activists all demanding the Senate reject the proposal. They got more than 780,000 within 24 hours.
I'm putting my money on that sort of momentum as the fight goes on.