Greens Warn Obama Eco-Base Will Sit Out Election If He Approves Keystone Pipeline

  • Date: 04/02/14
  • Ben Goad and Laura Barron-Lopez, The Hill

Environmental groups are warning President Obama that his liberal base might stay home on Election Day if he approves the Keystone XL  oil pipeline.

Proponents of the $5.4 billion Canada-to-Texas pipeline say their case is buoyed by the State Department’s environmental analysis of the project, which was released to great fanfare last week.

But critics say approval of the project could sow liberal discontent and hurt Democratic chances in 2014 — including a host of contests that will likely decide who controls the Senate during the final years of the Obama White House.

“It is very likely that there will be negative consequences for Democrats if Keystone were approved,” said Kate Colarulli, the associate director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign. “This is a tremendous opportunity to protect the climate and build the Democratic base if Obama rejects Keystone XL.”

Green groups are promising acts of “civil disobedience,” if Obama signs off on the project and contend Keystone’s approval could torpedo the president’s broader climate change agenda.

The White House insists the electoral ramifications wouldn’t play a part in the president’s final call on the pipeline, which would carry crude from Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

“He’s been very clear that he’s going to insulate this process from politics,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

The issue, however, is irreversibly entangled in politics, with Republicans and some Democrats pressing for the pipeline’s approval and environmentalists waging war to stop it.

Jamie Henn of the green group called the dispute over Keystone “the most iconic fight of a generation” and said the youth vote, which played an important part in Obama’s rise, could hang in the balance.

“A Keystone XL approval will turn a lot of people off from the process, and they will get involved in action that could be disruptive,” Henn said.

More than 75,000 activists have threatened to engage in acts of civil disobedience if Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry gives Keystone XL the green light, Colarulli said. [...]

Democratic candidates running for Senate seats in red-leaning states West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota will have to woo Republican voters, and that means walking a fine line on the Keystone issue.

“They need votes on all sides of the issue,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report.

At the same time, some candidates clearly view Keystone as an opportunity to draw a distinction between themselves and Obama in GOP country.

“There are more than a handful of Democrats running in red states looking to declare their independence from the president and the national Democratic Party,” Gonzales said.

The State Department’s environmental analysis highlights multiple factors at play that could influence agency heads and Kerry on whether the project serves the nation’s interests.

The report notes that a steep drop in oil prices and “long-term constraints on any new pipeline capacity,” which could result in higher transportation costs of the crude oil, could significantly affect oil sands production.

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