Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Obama's Keystone Pipeline Delay Could Shore Up Green Support

Actress Daryl Hannah with other anti-Keystone XL protestors at the White House in August 2011.
Evan Vucci
Actress Daryl Hannah with other anti-Keystone XL protestors at the White House in August 2011.

The 2012 presidential election could be close, with President Obama needing support from every segment of his political base to win re-election.

So the president's move (made through the State Department) to delay his controversial decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until beyond Election Day 2012 isn't really a shocker. The White House, for the record, denies that politics played a role in the decision.

Environmentalists opposed to the project which would construct a 1,700-mile pipeline to transport oil from Canada's Alberta tar sands region to refineries in the U.S. and ports on the Gulf of Mexico, recently protested en masse at the White House.

The protests involving thousands were meant as a last-minute reminder to the White House of the political risks the president ran if he approved the pipeline despite such concerns.

Given so much environmental opposition to the pipeline, the president would have certainly outraged an important part of his political base, environmental activists, less than a year before Election Day.

Many environmentalists were already upset with the president for not achieving the green hopes they placed in him when they supported his 2008 election.

For instance, he failed to get major climate and energy legislation passed when Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress. In September, he delayed tougher EPA smog regulations until after the election.

Of course, he also twice increased fuel-efficiency standards and made investments in green energy an important part of his domestic agenda.

In any event, delaying final approval of Keystone so the developer and Obama administration can review alternate routes for the pipeline should only help solidify support for the president among environmentalists.

They opposed the pipeline in part because they said it would threaten agriculture lands and drinking water in the upper Midwest. Objections to the pipeline went beyond environmentalists. Nebraska's conservative Republican Gov. Dave Heineman joined other Republicans and Democrats in opposing the pipeline project.

Writing on the Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard blog, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of international programs, wrote:

"This is a tremendous victory in a campaign that has pitted people from all walks of life against dirty tar sands. By calling for a new environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama is displaying leadership and a continued strong commitment to protections for land, air, water, climate and public health. He heard Nebraskans, Texans, Montanans and others ask for protection of their land and water."

The NRDC also had a video thank you to the president featuring actor Robert Redford, a trustee of the group, posted to YouTube shortly after the State Department announcement.

But while Obama's decision pleases environmentalists, it's not likely to have the same affect on make others in his political base. Organized labor supported an approval because it meant the creation of thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, the decision gives Obama's Republican critics fresh ammunition with which to attack him for allegedly hurting job creation in the U.S.

From House Speaker John Boehner:

"More than 20,000 new American jobs have just been sacrificed in the name of political expediency. By punting on this project, the President has made clear that campaign politics are driving U.S. policy decisions – at the expense of American jobs. The current project has already been deemed environmentally sound, and calling for a new route is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to avoid upsetting the President's political base before the election. It's a failure of leadership.

The existence of bipartisan opposition in Nebraska and elsewhere to the pipeline project, however, should offer the president some political cover from such attacks.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
Related Content