Environmental activists are already up in arms about the White House’s decision to support the partial construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But they should prepare themselves for a lot more disappointment down the road.
President Obama has been playing both sides of the Keystone XL debate since the beginning, and his thumbs-up to the partial construction is the latest sign he’s only interested in delaying the pipeline long enough to hold onto environmentalist support until after November 2012.
Republicans already see this issue causing problems for Obama in the general election. “I think the president is in an untenable position on the pipeline, and I’ll be surprised to see if they don’t figure out a way to retreat in the face of public [opposition] on this issue,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions on a conference call with reporters this afternoon.
With the price of gas rising, Obama has had to rework his initial political calculation on the pipeline. Previously, the issue pitted together two of his key support groups: the environmental left (which opposed the pipeline) versus the labor unions (which supported it). Rather than risk losing either side in the upcoming election, Obama punted the Keystone XL construction decision until 2013.
But now that rising gas prices are likely to become an election issue for independent voters, Obama can’t risk being seen as responsible for the pipeline’s delay. His public support for the partial construction was a nod to that shifting political reality.
Of course, once construction on the pipeline begins, environmentalists lose any hope of ever killing the Keystone XL completely. They also lose the possibility that Obama may come out strongly against the pipeline for green energy reasons. In fact, as gas prices become increasingly important as an election issue, expect Obama to back away even further from his earlier opposition to the pipeline.