Defenders of the environment and some clean energy advocates are growing more outraged by the week as Barack Obama reverses course on proposed ozone pollution rules amid signals he will approve the application for the massive Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline ready for construction by TransCanada Corp.
Figuring he’s got his political ‘bases’ covered as his campaign appeals to swing and independent voters leading up to November 2012, this will be an intriguing dynamic to watch that is not without significant risk to the President.
Calgary-based TransCanada wants to build the massive XL pipeline to carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas. The pipeline, which would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels of oil a day, doubling the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada. Supporters say it could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
On July 21, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency said the draft environmental impact study for Keystone XL was inadequate and should be revised,indicating that the initial report by the State Department’s was “unduly narrow” because it didn’t fully look at oil spill response plans, safety issues and greenhouse gas concerns.
But when the final environmental impact report was released on August 26, 2011, the EPA stated the pipeline would pose “no significant impacts” to most resources if environmental protection measures are followed. Hmmm. It did assert the pipeline presents “significant adverse effects to certain cultural resources,” whatever that is supposed to mean.
The final decision is expected by the end 2011.
As for Obama’s smog decision, the heat it has unleashed may itself be contributing to global warming. Obama clearly is trying to build up a defense of his economic agenda and punting on environmental regulations his supporters took for granted a year ago. It’s not quite that simple.
The White House, which has pledged to base decisions on science, said last week the science behind its initial decision needed to be updated, a process already under way at EPA. The smog standard now is to be revised until 2013. Read this excellent analysis with helpful context from the Washington Post’s Erza Klein.
That said, digest this from a long-time insider who has stayed mum about Obama’s retreat — former Maryland congressman and senior Senate environmental staffer Leon Billings — and how he unloaded on the President Tuesday, Sept. 6. Here’s an excerpt:
“Now the President has decided to violate the law and not move forward with the release of new, peer reviewed, scientifically established standards for clean air. These standards, required as a result of a proposal by Richard M. Nixon, are the underpinning of the nation’s clean air effort. Even the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, written brilliantly by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that these health based air quality standards were to be based on science, not economics. So what does this President do: he says that economics prevent him from stating a scientifically proven fact that certain exposure to smog is unhealthy and needs to be reduced.”
Also on Tuesday, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer said she hopes green groups sue President Barack Obama over his decision to punt a regulation curbing smog-creating emissions until at least 2013, according to POLITICO.
What Ralph Nader, running on the Green Party ticket, did to Al Gore in 2000, costing him Florida’s electoral votes and thus the election — despite earning more popular votes than George Bush nationwide — could very well reoccur there or elsewhere next year. If a candidate can package a compelling economic value proposition along with enough of a progressive energy and environmental etc. agenda, independent voters could abandon Obama…in droves.
It’s almost as if Obama’s campaign team believes the green vote does not matter enough to worry about, at least not now. So much for firming up one’s ‘base.’
From a fundraising perspective, these two events could be just the shot-in-the-arm that environmental interest groups want: ammunition to turn up the volume of their money-raising efforts to influence the presidential campaign.