Is the Left’s Anti-Keystone Unity Breaking?

MSNBC host Ed Schultz comes out as a lonely voice on the left in support of the pipeline. Could he be just the first of many to split with the pack?

Ed Schultz comes out in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline on his MSNBC show, breaking with most liberals.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
Feb. 6, 2014, 6:36 a.m.

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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.

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