Obama’s Keystone XL embarrassment

Obama’s Organizing for America recently launched a campaign criticizing members of congress for failing to listen to scientists on climate change.
 
The email headline blared, “Watch this embarrassing video of climate deniers in congress – and say you are ready to hold them accountable.”
 
It certainly is embarrassing (and worse) that members of congress still callously fly in the face of the science and the urgent danger of our rapidly heating planet. And we certainly should hold them accountable for it.
 
Yet it is an open question whether President Obama himself will do exactly the same thing – deny the scientists who are unequivocally clear on the need to keep carbon in the ground – when it comes to his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
 
If he does, it will be even more embarrassing for our president.
 
The first, loudest, and most visual embarrassment will be how he is held accountable. Not with an online petition, but with tens of thousands of his best supporters sitting in and getting arrested in protests across the country. Nearly 60,000 people have already signed the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance – committing, if President Obama’s State Department issues a draft approval of Keystone XL, to engage in peaceful and dignified acts of civil disobedience targeted at President Obama, his administration, and other supporters of the toxic pipeline.
 
We expect this to grow to 100,000 people pledged by the summer – 100,000 of President Obama’s best supporters not organizing around his second-term agenda, but instead protesting his catastrophic decision on Keystone XL.
 
It will be embarrassing for the president to side against his own EPA, which gave widespread criticism of the State Department’s recent environmental impact statement on KXL, and instead side with oil-industry contractors paid by TransCanada to write the report.
 

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It will be embarrassing for the president to make a decision that flies in the face of the cold, hard economic facts on Keystone XL – that this export-focused pipeline won’t decrease our reliance on overseas oil; that it won’t reduce gas prices; that it will in fact increase oil prices in the Midwest; that it will produce, according to the oil-industry contractors themselves, all of 35 permanent jobs; and that the biggest economic impact of this pipeline will be its negative impacts, including the virtually guaranteed spills (still exempted from the spill recovery tax – a fact that will not change in this congress) and the catastrophic contribution to the heating of our planet.
 
But the biggest embarrassment for the president from approving Keystone XL will be his show of weakness. This decision is President Obama’s and his alone. We know that he aspires to do something about it. His 2025 fuel-efficiency standard is his administration’s proudest environmental accomplishment – the projected benefits of which will be slashed nearly in half by approving Keystone XL.
 
If President Obama approves Keystone XL he will go down in history as the president who lost a pivotal negotiation to himself.
 
Unlike the Republicans in congress, for whom proud ignorance and callously self-serving actions have become the hallmark of their jury-rigged and gerrymandered-safe majority in the House, President Obama was elected on the promises of change – including change from “the tyranny of oil,” and hope – including hope for a future in which “the rise of the oceans began to slow, and the planet began to heal.”
 
Approval of Keystone XL would be an embarrassing and cynical betrayal to everyone who stood with the president in 2008 and 2012. But if the past actions of this administration are any indication, President Obama will try to court some imagined middle ground, an all-of-the-above compromise that produces net zero environmental gain.
 
But there are a few months left, and we can still work, and hope. An inspiring leader once said, “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” It sure would be embarrassing to have to take those words back.

Elijah Zarlin is a Senior Campaign Manager for CREDO, a progressive activist organization with over 3 million members nationwide. Previously, Elijah served as a Senior National Email Writer on President Obama’s 2008 election campaign.