Did Obama just sucker punch liberals on Keystone XL?

February 3, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Maybe I’m reading this incorrectly. Maybe there’s more to this than meets the jaundiced media eye. There usually is. And it’s usually highly unpleasant.

Nevertheless: Behold, this wonderful/terrible collusion of news coming from the House of Obama! Can you make sense of it all? Good luck…

Firstly, here is the much-despised Keystone XL pipeline, which, as expected, the frothy Republican congress couldn’t pass fast enough, because screw you.

Nearly everyone knows Keystone is a terrible idea. As confirmed just about everywhere, the meager number of pipeline jobs would only be temporary, the few buckets of oil it would provide wouldn’t make the slightest difference in our gluttonous overall needs, and the dire environmental risks – not to mention the tacit support for Alberta’s revolting tar sands, easily the most poisonous, toxic oil extraction process in the developed world (fracking a close second) – can’t possibly justify the measly benefits.

So pretty! Like a giant catheter of death

So pretty! Like a giant catheter of death

Love you. Infuriated by you. Baffled and curious, strangely depressed and frequently impressed, all at once.

After years of endless sidestepping, Obama finally announced he would veto the Keystone legislation. The bill is heading to his desk right now, where his long-neglected veto stamp is, we should assume, just getting warmed up.

Wonderful news, right? But wait, it gets better.

As if promising to kill Keystone wasn’t enough, Obama just did another seemingly awesome thing to infuriate Republicans; he revisited one of 2008’s most beloved hot-button issues (also beloved in 2005, and 2002, 1996, 1986, 1977), and proposed that 5 million more acres of the Artic Wildlife Refuge (for a total of just over 12m) be set aside as wilderness area, thus preventing any drilling. Awesome! Screw Exxon! Lisa Murkowsi (and Daniel Sullivan, Sarah Palin, et al) can suck it!

Great stuff, yes? My president! Down but nowhere near out! And etcetera.

Not so fast, wary liberals.

Because then we get this: Mere minutes after announcing the ANWR proposal and not long after promising a veto of Keystone (any second now), Obama flipped right around and announced full White House support for all kinds of new drilling off the Atlantic seaboard. Wait, what?

But that’s nothing. The Obama Administration in recent years has quietly issued all kinds of new permits and leases to Big Energy, including allowing lots more drilling on federal lands, shortening permit-issuing speeds, and re-opening nearly 60 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico (all is forgiven, BP oil spill?) to fresh drilling.

In fact, as Michael Klare so rightly pointed out in Mother Jones, the anti-oil rhetoric of Obama 1.0 is long gone. The president has quietly become, by nearly all measures, an “oil president.”

Nature loves stuff like this. What could possibly go wrong?

In one sense, you can argue he’s just making good on a campaign promise to get America off foreign oil. That’s certainly true – it’s just not in the ways any progressive imagined, and certainly not in the way Obama initially promised, which was a far wider, bolder support of alternative energy, increased efficiency standards, less domestic drilling, and so on. Ah, simpler times.

Progressives still have many good things to cheer. Relatively modest new CAFE standards are coming, in which cars and light trucks have to improve their MPG significantly by 2025, sort of. There’s huge new funding and support for renewable energy sources. And, perhaps most importantly, Obama has negotiated historically unprecedented deals on greenhouse gasses and climate change, most notably (and potentially planet-changing) with China.

Meanwhile, America is gushing oil like never before. Fresh drilling abounds. Environmentalists are furious. Republicans are baffled. Global oil prices are taking a very fortuitous, temporary dip (beware, short-sighted new truck/SUV buyers), but which, for the moment, make the overall oil debate seem strangely moot.

Perhaps it’s just the Obama Way? One part compromise no one asked for, one part baffling schizophrenia, one part subtle political genius and shrewd maneuvering, whereby liberals get the warm fuzzies they want via Alaska, Keystone, China and so on, and Republicans are hamstrung (well, a little) in their overt Obama-bashing due to all that fresh, domestic oil and natural gas pouring through their states and their Wall Street portfolios.

Obama in 2015! Everyone gets a backrub. And a deft sucker punch.

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Mark Morford

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