The White House has consistently resisted efforts by Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, most recently by threatening to veto a bill that has now passed the House of Representatives, and could pass the Senate as early as next week. The president is going to have to make a decision on the pipeline eventually, though, and if he’s going to end up approving it anyway, he should do it when he can get the most out of that decision. Since Republicans have been selling Keystone as a job-creating genie, a natural, and popular, issue for Obama to attach to the pipeline is the minimum wage increase he proposed at last year’s State of the Union.
President Obama’s opposition to Keystone legislation has, ostensibly, been a reluctance to subvert the normal permitting process, but has accompanied that with a relentless and convincing assault on the sales job that Republicans have used to try and push the project. He even got an unexpected assist from the pipeline company’s CEO last year when the head of TransCanada conceded that the project would only create 50 permanent operational jobs.
That State Department permitting process has been stalled for almost a year because of a legal challenge that was making its way through the Nebraska court system, a challenge that has now been cleared:
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday cleared a potential clog in the path of the proposed crude oil pipeline by reversing a lower court decision that struck down the law that former Gov. Dave Heineman used to approve the project’s route.
In a split vote, the high court vacated Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy’s decision that found the 2012 law (LB1161) unconstitutional.
It has been that legal challenge that the White House has cited in recent weeks to push against the Keystone bill, but with that out of the way, and with the State Department reports thus far leaning in the pipeline’s favor, it seems like only a matter of time before Obama is faced with a choice between following a State Department recommendation to approve Keystone, or denying the permit in the face of that recommendation, and considerable public opinion. The fact is that opposition to Keystone is more symbolic than anything else, since the tar sands oil will be moved one way or the other, and will have a far greater impact on global warming if it’s moved over land.
As Obama has pointed out over and over again, though, the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t a great deal for America. Even its loftiest job creation estimates are in the thousands of temporary jobs, the oil being transported will be sold on the global market, and will have little to no effect on gas prices, which are already super-low. The pipeline doesn’t even benefit an American company. This project has become a huge deal on the right, and I’ve never really understood why, but since they want it so badly, let’s give it to them before they wise up.
The White House hasn’t ruled out using Keystone approval as a bargaining chip, one of the few that Democrats have in post-midterm America, and now that the courts in Nebraska have cleared the way, Obama should cash it in before Republicans realize they can get the pipeline for free by waiting the president out. Unlike many of the other things Obama and the Democrats could attach to a Keystone bill, a healthy minimum wage hike has overwhelming public support, even among Republicans, and would contribute greatly to the already-booming Obama economy. Most of all, it would help Americans, ceetainlly a lot more Americans than will be helped by celebratory drum circles as the pipeline lurches toward eventual approval anyway.