by Rona Fried
After losing the mid-term election at least partially because of a spineless refusal to voice leadership positions on issues Americans care about, Senate Democrats are doing it again.
Incredibly, Democrats – the party that acknowledges the gravity of climate change – are ready to force through the Keystone pipeline for political advantage.
Why? Because it might help Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu get re-elected to the Senate. Neither candidate achieved 50% of the vote during the election, so she faces a run-off with the Republican on December 7 – and in the deep red state, the Republican is favored to win.
Understandably, Democrats want to hold onto as many seats as they can in the Senate, but do they really want to turn off their liberal and environmental base in order to do that?
There is no issue more than Keystone where the environmental community has put a RED line in the sand. Don’t cross this line, we say, or you are no different than Republicans. And never mind the money and effort our community put into midterms … to get Democrats who are strong on climate change elected.
We can look forward to a vote within the next two weeks to make sure it happens before the run-off election. Landrieu could bring it up for a vote, and to show how "powerful" she is, Democrats could stand by and let it go to the floor instead of blocking it.
As Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (which switches to Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in January), Landrieu has strongly supported the Keystone pipeline, co-sponsoring legislation earlier this year.
"We’re a pro-production state. We want to drill almost anywhere. People believe it’s an opportunity for Americans to become energy self-sufficient," Landrieu said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
A few key votes gives you an idea of Landrieu’s stance and what Democrats are trying to protect in keeping her elected:
- voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline
- one of 4 Democrats who voted to permanently strip the EPA of its authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions and veto the agency’s scientific finding that climate change threatens public health and welfare.
- one of 4 Democrats to vote against eliminating fossil fuel subsidies
- one of 6 Democrats who urged Obama to give up on getting a cap-and-trade bill through the Senate in 2009
Republicans have long made it clear that Keystone is one of their very top priorities, but in a fascinating display of political maneuvering, they could end up blocking the vote. Why? To prevent Landrieu from being re-elected.
What does this chess game show? That neither party cares about actual "policies" – they just care about winning elections and holding power.
That backfired against Democrats in the midterms where, even with the biggest ground game ever, they couldn’t get people to vote. While voter suppression efforts by the GOP could be implicated, they don’t tell the whole story. Low-vote elections favor Republicans and in the midterms, a mere 37% of Americans bothered going to the polls.
Instead of strongly communicating their many successes under Obama, Democrats distanced themselves and spoke in the same watery terms as their opposition.
Just As We’re Making Progress
Right now, the Keystone pipeline doesn’t have a permit in Nebraska or South Dakota, and although President Obama could also be convinced to approve it, with strong Democratic support, his final decision could be to reject it.
Not that we’re giving Obama much credit in this regard – he should have outright rejected it many years ago. He let it go on and on through two obviously, deeply flawed and biased "environmental" analyses by the State Department … under Hillary Clinton’s "leadership" – another person who speaks about the urgency of addressing climate change.
Grassroots environmentalists have put their bodies on the line to prevent Keystone and it is having an impact. Tar sands production is slowing without Keystone – revenues are down by about $31 billion since 2010 – because they can’t get it to market, according to a report released last month.
In fact, half that lost revenue can be attributed to unrelenting grassroots action, says Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development, by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Oil Change International. Three major tar sand projects have been cancelled, stock performance lags for leading tar sands producers and financial analysts recently downgraded projections for production.
"Industry officials never anticipated the level and intensity of public opposition to their massive build-out plans," says Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. "Legal and other challenges are raising new issues related to environmental protection, indigenous rights and the disruptive impact of new pipeline proposals."
Oil prices have to be $95 per barrel or higher to make tar sands profitable, and that too is working against the industry with prices hovering around $80, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative. "The economics of oil sands are getting more challenging. We expect to see more stranded assets, as expensive projects get shelved with no viable route to market," says James Leaton, Research Director.
"Refiners don’t particularly want tar sands oil, which is tougher to make into usable transportation fuel, so it sells for about $20 to $30 less per barrel than crude from Texas or the Dakotas. Therefore, if producers can’t make it on the cheap, they can’t afford to make it at all," explains Brian Palmer in OnEarth.
Even Boone Pickins says it’s time to stop producing more oil because we are flooding the market, outpacing global demand. If the price stays where it is or continues falling, domestic production will soon decline, he told CNBC.
"The combination of risks facing the industry has the potential for canceling most or even all of the planned expansion of the industry in Canada," says the Material Risks report, but our friends in the still-Democratically controlled Senate could wipe all this away with a vote based on politics, not science.
Sounds the same as Republicans, yes? Politics over science?
Besides the environmental community, climate scientists, Nobel laureates (three letters), progressive businesses, Obama’s own staff, and big Democratic donors have all voiced strong opposition to the Keystone pipeline.
Read, Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development: