It was big news on both sides of the border yesterday when U.S. President Barack Obama said thanks, but no thanks to the Keystone XL pipeline. At least for now.
The proposed pipeline would see oil mined from the Alberta tar sands, and sent through thousands of miles of pipe from to refineries on Gulf coast of Texas. The argument in favour is that the project will create thousands of jobs, the argument against is the tremendous potential for environmental damage. But the real reason may actually have more to do with politics than any empirical reason to be either for, or against the project. In an election year no less.
Obama's in a sticky wicket. A lot of the people that supported him in 2008 feel that the way he's governed has betrayed their faith that he'd rule in a fashion more progressive. On the other hand, Obama has to make a play for the centre, a limited number of so-called swing voters who could vote either for the Democratic president or his to-be-named Republican rival. This decision could be read as a play to the left, many of whom are emphatically against the pipeline on principle.
At the same time, Obama's putting some of the blame on his loudest critics in the Republican Party. In December, Congress voted last month to give the administration a 60-day deadline to render its decision about the pipeline, and the White House is saying that they couldn't give the pipeline full consideration of all the angles and consequences in two months' time.
"There was an attempt to short-circuit the review process in a way that does not allow the kind of careful consideration of all the competing criteria here that needs to be done," said White House spokesperson James Carney. "It's a fallacy to suggest that the president would sign into law something when there isn't even an alternate route identified in Nebraska."
Carney references a group of Nebraska land owners who oppose the proposed route of the pipeline, one of the rare alignments between the typically red state Nebraskans and the pro-environment movement.
But TransCanada is free to re-apply at a later date, likely sometime later this year, and likely sometime after the presidential election in November. "The Department's denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects," the state department said in a statement.
And that's how a seeming victory on the left actually looks like a shrewd political maneuvre. Obama walks a fine line, gets praise from environmentalists while not necessarily offending Canada and Canadian oil money while making it look like Congress' fault. If Obama can kill three birds with one stone like this maybe things aren't looking so bleak for him politically after all heading into 2012.