Enviros Make Keystone XL a Litmus Test for Obama’s Re-Election: Will it Work?

Enviros Make Keystone XL a Litmus Test for Obama’s Re-Election: Will it Work?

Anti-pipeline forces say they will draw a line in the sand refusing to support Obama if he approves Keystone XL. Analysts say this strategy may backfire.

By Elizabeth McGowan, InsideClimate News

WASHINGTON—To hard-core environmentalists, the Obama administration’s upcoming decision on the fiercely debated Keystone XL oil sands pipeline is black and white. Say no to the Canada-to-Gulf Coast pipeline, they insist, or they won’t support Obama’s re-election bid.

But judging the president’s performance through such a narrow prism could backfire and make these pipeline hardliners politically irrelevant, analysts say, especially when the economy is tanking.

“All you hear about now is jobs, jobs, jobs,” Saint Louis University political science professor Ken Warren told InsideClimate News. “And this pipeline is going to be painted as a jobs creation issue. It doesn’t matter how many jobs will actually be created. In politics, it’s about perception. And you’re going to get blasted for not allowing it to be built.”

Obama came into office as genuinely pro-environment and promising progress, said Warren, a political analyst and pollster for more than three decades.

“Now the greens are putting the squeeze on him,” Warren said, “and Obama is saying, ‘I know, I know, I know but I can’t do what you want me to do with this pipeline. Don’t you understand?'”

Evidently not. Claiming it should be a simple decision for Obama, hard-core greens frame the issue like this. Approving the $7 billion project would open a spigot to unneeded dirty fuel and reward the president’s bitterest Big Oil enemies, who are intent on limiting him to one term. Rejecting it, on the other hand, would defuse a “carbon bomband reignite the devotion of an increasingly demoralized environmental community that raised piles of money and rounded up disengaged voters to help elect him in 2008.

That black and white clarity blurs to a murky gray hue, however, for a president up for re-election in less than 13 months saddled with sagging approval ratings, an unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent and a sluggish economy on the verge of slumping back into a recession.

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