Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Barack Obama rejects Keystone XL Pipeline, Hillary benefits most

We have reached the "clearing the decks for Hillary's campaign" segment of the Obama administration. From the Wall Street Journal :

"The Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline Friday, capping a politically charged review of the oil project that lasted more than seven years and escalated into a broader debate on energy, climate change and the economy.

"'The State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the U.S.,' President Barack Obama said in brief remarks from the White House. 'I agree with that decision.' ...

"Mr. Obama, who has made environmental issues a centerpiece of his second term, had signaled deep misgivings about the pipeline project as he pursued an expansive agenda aimed at fighting climate change.

"The president said Friday that the pipeline had occupied an overinflated role in political discourse, adding that it was neither a silver bullet for the economy nor an express lane to climate disaster. The project would not have lowered gas prices, improved energy security or made a long-term contribution to the economy, Mr. Obama said.

"'If Congress is serious about wanting to create jobs, this was not the way to do it,' he said."

OK, let's parse those three claims of his. Being picky about "the way to (create jobs)" is hardly something Obama can be cavalier about given that only in the last few months  has the economy finally regained its pre-recession level of full-time jobs. We are now 94 months out from the previous employment peak. Compare that to the 30-31 months it took to recover all the full-time jobs lost in the 1981-82 recession, even though the unemployment rate peaked at a higher level back then (10.8 percent vs. a high of 10 percent in the 2007-08 recession) and stayed above 10 percent far longer (10 months vs. one).

Second, the part about "would not have lowered gas prices" has pretty much become a moot point because gas prices have -- contrary to the wishes of climate alarmists -- already sunk to about $2 a gallon in much of the country. But even when prices were higher, analysts had mixed views about what would happen. Most likely, the greater supply would put downward pressure on prices when they were high. And when do you want to do something to bring prices down: While you have time to act, as we do now, or after it's too late because prices have already risen?

But the most brazen claim is the one about climate change. Obama's own State Department concluded last year that U.S. approval of the project probably wouldn't have an effect, because the Canadian oil sands in question are likely to be developed either way. That's just common sense: The owners of those resources are going to find a way to develop them and get them to market. Pretending otherwise may fit Obama's track record of governing in the world as he wishes it were, not as it is, but it fails the test of reality.


Most likely, there are two real reasons for this decision, both of them political. First is Obama's desire to burnish the most liberal parts of his own legacy as his term approaches its end. Second is his willingness to take an issue off the table that has bedeviled Hillary Clinton. She long dithered over the issue before saying in September she opposed it. But that statement wasn't going to end the issue as a problem for her, given labor unions' support for building the pipeline (because, contrary to Obama's claim, it would have meant a lot of jobs for them). By closing the door to Keystone, at least for now, Obama lessens the pressure the labor wing of the Democratic Party could have put on Hillary.

Expect some kind of (probably unlawful) administrative move to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay to be next. Congress has repeatedly included provisions to prevent Guantanamo's closing while enacting legislation over the years. But lame-duck Obama appears unbound by the law or electoral politics, unless it's Hillary's politics. The next year could be a dangerous time for American interests and the rule of law.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.