So, the environmental movement drew the proverbial line in the sand: no Keystone XL pipeline. We’ve been fighting the tar sands for years, and will continue, but the Keystone XL has been the first clear solid rallying point and the first time in years that we greens have taken it to the street. Bill McKibben, the author and activist who has been driving the Keystone XL opposition, won the man-of-the-year award in my annual review.
Well, McKibben and the rest of the movement got the attention of the White House and in the Fall, Obama and Co. postponed the decision. The Republican ideologues in Congress are focused first and foremost in all things, the health of the government and nation a secondary consideration, on stopping President Obama’s reelection. These folks, along with a phalanx of Democrats beholden to Big Oil, upped the ante on the pipeline by legislating that the President had to decide by February 21.
He did. He said no. The State Department, in whose bailiwick the permit decision was being processed, had offered that conclusion to the President and he accepted it. The White House at the same time proffered that the Administration had been increasing energy security during its watch.
One of the arguments that the pipeline’s supporters have been making, and will continue to make in the wake of this extraordinary moment, is that the project meant jobs. Well, the supporters have likely inflated the numbers. Not surprising. The supporters say that the unions will abandon the President on this. Maybe some will, but I guess a lot of the lunch pail construction union folks weren’t ever all that supportive of Obama. I took part in a “dialogue” sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers last year. Pretty interesting day. Two top officials of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, were as dug in on this as the oilmen were. Again, not surprising.
What might be surprising to you, however, is that union support for these sorts of projects is not monolithic. Two powerful groups, for instance, the Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union, are dead set against. One of their conclusions is that “Keystone XL may kill more jobs than it creates, through its contribution to the climate crisis…” Beyond this, the BlueGreen Alliance has been a powerful voice for the economic engine of clean tech. It’s a simple but powerful message: “Transforming our economy through renewable energy, energy efficiency, mass transit and rail, a new smart grid and other solutions to global warming, has the potential to create millions of jobs, while reducing global warming emissions and moving America toward energy independence.”
The Keystone XL just doesn’t fit in that picture. Neither do the tar sands that the Keystone XL would further enable. As I wrote at DeSmogBlog a while back, there is a glaring paradox in the pursuit of tar sands oil and America’s drive to decarbonize energy. The NY Times had an editorial in the wake of the President’s decision that applauded it. Instead of this boondoggle, it needs to be noted: “Far more important to the nation’s energy and environmental future is the development of renewable and alternative energy sources.”
David Roberts at Grist had this analysis: Keystone surprise: Greens stronger & GOP dumber than predicted . It’s good politics for the President too. How about that? The environmental movement will now work hard for this guy. Bill McKibben lauded the President’s courage: “Make no mistake—this is a brave decision.” But as McKibben says, this is not the end of the fight. The environmental movement in general and his group, 350.org, will, in the coming months and years, “…be fighting to shut off the flow of handouts to the oil, gas, and coal industries, and to take away their right to use the atmosphere as an open sewer into which to dump their carbon for free.”
That’s the job too of everyone who believes that the time is long past, for scores of reasons, to transition to a newer world in which energy is smart, clean and cheap.