Despite intense lobbying from environmentalists and opposition from many in President Obama’s own party, virtually all National Journal Energy and Environment Insiders say that Obama’s State Department will approve a controversial 1,700-mile pipeline project to bring carbon-heavy tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Environmental groups have been working in Congress and the courts to delay or block a decision, citing environmental concerns and, more recently, questions about the impartiality of some State Department officials.
But more than 70 percent of Insiders said they think the State Department will approve the Keystone XL project by year’s end. Another 21 percent said the administration would approve the project eventually, just not by the end of this year. Only 9 percent of those responding think the project will not get final administration approval. Because the project crosses international boundaries, the State Department is tasked with determining whether building the pipeline is in the national interest.
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Environmentalists say extraction and production of tar-sands oil is much more damaging to the environment and emits more greenhouse gases than the processes for obtaining and processing conventional oil. But many Insiders noted that the Keystone XL pipeline would give the United States a significant source of oil that does not come from the volatile Middle East or Venezuela—and that it is expected to bring jobs to the six states through which the pipeline would pass.
“Do you really think the White House would kill this in an election year during which the prime issue is jobs?” asked one Insider. “I don’t. It will be sold as ‘environmentally sensitive’ construction.”
“Energy independence is important to Obama, and this will provide a major source of North American oil,” another Insider said.
“The White House understands what the State Department has known for three years....The pipeline is needed and in the country’s best interest,” said another. “They’ve delayed it for a year to appease Big Green, but they will issue the permit in 2011.”
Despite the overwhelming consensus on the administration’s probable approval of the pipeline, Insiders were split on the fallout of such a decision. Asked whether it would help or hurt President Obama’s re-election efforts, 47 percent of Insiders said that the pipeline project approval would help Obama, while 47 percent said it would hurt his efforts. The remaining 6 percent of Insiders said Keystone XL approval would neither help nor hurt Obama in 2012.
“Environmentalists will not be happy, but they have nowhere else to go, since they scorn Republicans,” one Insider said.
“Unlike the right, the left will hold its nose and vote/support the 'lesser of two evils'," said another. "Big Green will not abandon the President...period, and issuing the permit will empower his campaign to claim he's a sensible moderate.”
Many Insiders also said that the approval would not do much to help Obama with drilling advocates, who will either forget the endorsement in a year’s time or just aim to defeat him regardless.
“Obama is not going to win the hearts and minds of the oil and gas industry--and its workers--with this approval. This will just mean that they don't dislike him as much as they otherwise would,” one Insider said. “But this will make long-time Obama supporters in the environmental world aghast at another decision that they would never have expected him to make when they helped him win in 2008.”
Will the administration approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the end of the year?
- Yes, by the end of the year 71%
- No, the administration will not approve the project 9%
- The administration will approve the project, but at a later date 21%
Yes, by the end of the year
“It is better to simply make a decision rather than let this hang out there. Delay signals weakness.”
“Energy independence is important to Obama, and this will provide a major source of North American oil.”
“The White House understands what the State Department has known for 3 years. ... The pipeline is needed and in the country's best interest. They've delayed it for a year to appease Big Green, but they will issue the permit in 2011.”
“As painful a decision as they are making it, logic and reason has to trump anti-fossil fuel ideology in this particular case. The administration should have approved the pipeline a year ago before the big green machine had time to crank up.”
The administration will approve the project, but at a later date
"I'm betting January.”
“They will find a way to extend the decision deadline beyond the election. This will satisfy no one.”
“Politically challenging decisions almost never get done on time in Washington.”
“Do you really think the White House would kill this in an election year during which the prime issue is jobs? I don't. It will be sold as 'environmentally sensitive' construction.”
“With less than 90 days in CY 2011, there isn't enough time for the process to wrap in 2011.”
If approved, will the Keystone XL pipeline project help or hurt President Obama’s re-election efforts?
- Help 47%
- Hurt 47%
- Neither 6%
“Having an answer for high oil prices will be much more important in 2012 than it is today and the President already has an answer for environmental protection.”
“Really have no effect on the reelect. If they fail to approve it, it would be catastrophic for the reelection.”
“Approving the project would help to blunt criticism that he is only supportive of green energy.”
“Environmentalists will not be happy, but they have nowhere else to go, since they scorn Republicans. The strategic error of becoming part of the Democratic Party means their support is taken for granted, like labor.”
“Energy independence trumps GHG concerns. The environmental community will scream. Will Jackson resign over this one? In some places, that might help Obama's reelection efforts.”
“I don't think it will make a big difference one way or the other, but it will help at the margin—like his decision to delay any new ozone standard--by showing that he is willing to stand up to environmental activists when jobs are at stake.”
“The people who will be upset about this decision won't have a better alternative in 2012.”
“He will receive few benefits from voters almost a year after the decision while deeply disappointing many of his supporters.”
“It will further rub his environmental base the wrong way, and despite its benefits to the oil and gas industry, they will do everything in their power to defeat him—with even more vigor. It's the new normal.”
“It will hurt him with environmentalists (whose votes he could and should earn) and won't help him with the 'drill baby, drill' advocates (whose votes he will never earn). Oil exploration is among the most polarizing energy issues and the notion of tar sands development in Canada, a pipeline through U.S. property and protected habitats and water tables, to reach refineries in Texas in order to be processed and shipped overseas sets environmentalists' hair on fire. Hard pressed to see how environmentalists could vote for many in current Republican line-up but they could stay home and keep their checkbooks closed.”
“It will hurt only because it will really set the enviro Community off, while getting little or no credit from the business side.”
“The only constituency that this helps Obama with is Canadians and they don't vote in our elections. Coming on top of the Ozone regs delay, approving Keystone only further discourages the President's core voters.”
“I believe the Keystone pipeline project will neither help nor hurt the President's re-election efforts, although it will be another reason for the base to lose any enthusiasm they still have.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, David Miller, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O'Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the October 12, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.