Even though a narrow majority of Democratic voters support building the Keystone XL pipeline, according to the most recent National Journal poll on the subject, it's hard to find prominent voices on the left who take that position. Sure, some labor unions like the AFL-CIO support the pipeline, but they've done so fairly tepidly. And sure, there are plenty of Democratic members of Congress who would vote to build it, but they're mostly moderates from red or purple states.
On the left, which turned out in massive protests last week against the pipeline, Keystone is universally considered a four-letter word.
But that may have started to change on Wednesday, when MSNBC host Ed Schultz broke rank with other personalities on the left-leaning network to give a strong plea to build the pipeline.
"I've never really had a position on this pipeline, until now," he said. "I know a lot of my viewers are surprised at my position on this … [and] I know my stance on the Keystone XL pipeline is going to make some liberals hot under the collar and attack me on Twitter—that's fine."
He made a pragmatic, liberal case for the pipeline, arguing that the need for oil isn't going away anytime soon, and that the pipeline is a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to other transport options. Schultz has already caught flack from the left (his guest, environmentalist filmmaker Josh Fox, told Schultz that he'd been duped), and earned praise from some unusual corners of the Internet, including conservative blogs Town Hall and Hot Air.
Schultz has long aligned himself with organized labor, so it makes sense that he would be more amenable to Keystone than other MSNBC hosts. But the question is whether Schultz is one, lonely heterodox voice on the left, or the first of more to come ahead of what many now see as the inevitable, eventual approval of the pipeline.
For now, progressives are still firmly united against the pipeline and throwing everything they have at influencing the final decision. Still, also this week, former Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came out for the project, calling it a "win-win." And as Natonal Journal's Amy Harder noted, many of the groups and activists who led the fight against Keystone are now turning their attention toward fracking, even as they continue to fight Keystone. "Five years from now, we may well look back on this time as the sunrise of the environmental movement's post-Keystone world," she wrote Wednesday.
Those who fought Keystone have an interest in trying to downplay any potential loss to their constituents and donors, and in preserving relations with the Obama administration as it rolls out new carbon regulations—which everyone agrees are more important, in terms of climate change, than Keystone. And Obama allies on the left may look to give him political cover ahead of the White House's final moves on the pipeline, which are still expected to be months away.
For now, Schultz is alone, but we'll see if he stays that way.