Torn between two lovers,Branded a fool,
Loving both of you
Is breaking all the rules.
—Mary MacGregor/Peter Yarrow, Torn Between Two Lovers
It’s not as though President Obama doesn’t have enough going wrong, what with the economy in the toilet, Arab states swapping tyrannical dictators for unpredictable mob rule, GOP presidential hopefuls circling like sharks in a feeding frenzy, and his Left base growing increasingly feral with impatience over his shocking failure to deliver on, I don’t know, any of his various promises of change. Now it appears that some of Obama’s most reliable supporters—major labor unions—are taking up opposite sides leaving Obama caught in the middle of an issue he basically cannot resolve without possibly irretrievably alienating one group or the other.
When you are forever promising all things to all people, one wonders why this doesn’t happen more often.
At issue is TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles from oil rich sands in Calgary all the way to Texas Gulf Coast refineries in Houston and Port Arthur. The project would double the existing pipeline capacity, adding over a half-million barrels of crude per day at a time when political unrest threatening Middle East crude supplies has the price of gasoline still hovering around $3.50 a gallon. Because the project crosses an international boundary, TransCanada needs White House approval (actually through the State Department) before work can proceed. Although Canada gave its approval last March, the project continues to be held up by the Obama administration as it attempts to deal with competing special interests.
In one corner we have the International Brotherhood of Teamsters—you may have heard of them—clearly a heavyweight among the labor unions, and an Obama backer. The Teamsters support the Keystone XL project, arguing that it will create upwards of 1,500 jobs for its members, in addition to thousands of construction jobs. An American Petroleum Institute representative has said “This is the largest shovel-ready project in the United States[.]”
Wow, and it didn’t even take a federal “stimulus” subsidy to create it.
Not so fast, say opponents. In the other corner, predictably, we have the usual cast of environmental zealots. But joining them on Friday in opposition to the Keystone XL project were two major unions purporting to represent bus drivers, and railroad and subway workers. There is the Transport Workers Union, a group with historical ties to the U.S. Communist Party. And we also have the Amalgamated Transit Union, which--not coincidentally--is also a partner with the Sierra Club in the Blue Green Alliance along with a number of other unions, notably the SEIU. The complaint from all of them is that the project is an environmental threat due to greenhouse gases and possible leaks. Of course, they make it sound as though the Keystone project brings some new and dire risk to the American experience, conveniently ignoring the fact that for decades there have been hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines carrying billions of barrels of crude oil a year throughout the U.S. And the so-called “dirty sands” in Alberta from which TransCanada is extracting the crude that would be shipped through the Keystone XL project are going to be developed whether this pipeline gets built or not.
The bigger question is what this environmental issue has to do with the collective bargaining rights of bus drivers and subway workers. The TWU and ATU are labor unions; they collect forced dues from their members ostensibly for the purpose negotiating on their collective behalf with their respective management groups. Environmental lobbying would seem to be well beyond their purview. Unless, I suppose, the argument is that expanding crude supply to U.S. refineries would result in lower gasoline prices, thus reducing bus and subway ridership.
Yes, artificially propping up gasoline prices by preventing increased supply; I’m sure that’s the way to get the economy back on track and create jobs. Maybe we can subsidize other producers like farmers not to produce while we’re at it. Oh, wait . . .
This puts Obama in a nice political hot box. With unemployment stagnated above 9%, jobs being a constant theme in his public addresses over the last month, and increasing vitriol from the Left for him to do something, the Keystone XL project presents a clear program that, while we can debate the exact numbers, will undoubtedly result in the creation of at least some jobs. Contrast that with Obama’s vague platitudes about “green jobs” that have proven to be such a demonstrable failure (h/t Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest) that even the New York Times has been forced to concede them for the disaster that they’ve been. Tea Party budget hawks should like this one, too, as it doesn’t involve a dime of federal money. And Obama has to know that if he withholds approval, all he’s going to hear for the next 14 months is that for all his talk about compromise and the need to put country ahead of party and focus on jobs, when he was presented with a real opportunity to do just that, he said no. With the backing of the Teamsters, which endorsed him in 2008, and has contributed over $20 million to Democrats over the last 20+ years, there’s got to be real pragmatic appeal to allowing the Keystone XL project to go forward.
Yet granting approval would be a slap in the face for the environmentalists that form such a core part of Obama’s base. Obama campaigned endlessly on his intent to move America to a “green economy.” He’s so heavily invested in the idea personally and politically, one suspects he will in the end be unable to back away from that position. And he has to know that if he grants approval, he going to hear nothing but even more hysteria from the Left that he has once again caved in to the Right and sold out the ideals upon which he campaigned.
It’s enough to make Al Gore jump in his SUV and head for the hills.
Forced to choose between pragmatism and idealism, I’ll bet he can’t do it. A dollar here says he votes “present,” and delays it until after 2012 elections. Whew, glad that’s settled; let’s go play golf.