April 24, 2014 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, President Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s Keystone Cops

You’ve got to hand it to billionaire Tom Steyer. He tells Barack Obama and Harry Reid to jump, and they obediently reply: How high?

Mr. Steyer pulled off the policy coup of the year last week when the White House announced it would place the Keystone XL pipeline in regulatory purgatory for another six months at least. Mr. Steyer has promised $100 million to Democrats to beat back Republicans in the midterm elections this fall, and the campaign funds have already paid off in the scuttling of this $3 billion pipeline project. (Remember when Democrats were pro-infrastructure?) President Obama says we have to determine whether it is “in the national interest.”

Mr. Steyer protested this week that he is not the Democratic party’s version of the Koch brothers, who fund efforts to promote liberty and free enterprise. Mr. Steyer says that “there are real distinctions between the Koch brothers and us,” because the Kochs personally benefit from their political advocacy, while he is donating to save the planet. Never mind that he’s a major investor in solar-energy projects that compete with fossil fuels. Let’s just say that Steyer got more than just a lousy T-shirt for his political pay-to-play investment.

But Steyer, like most fanatical greens, really does have an intense hatred of this pipeline — and thus a motive that goes beyond any personal gain. To the far left, Keystone has become the symbol of the North American shale-oil-and-gas revolution that is crushing the brief and ill-fated renewable-energy fad. So anything that would efficiently transport these fossil fuels to market is evil.

For his part, Obama repeated the Big Green mantra that we shouldn’t build the pipeline if it would contribute to “carbon pollution.” By this logic, the U.S. government should shut down the existing 100,000 miles of pipeline in North America and stop all domestic fossil-fuel production.

But all of this is a sideshow to the really big question here, which is whether the GOP leaders are smart enough to capitalize on this Keystone blunder. The controversy exposes a widening fault line within the Democratic coalition that could split the party in two. It’s an intra-party blood feud between the blues and the greens: Blue-collar union Democrats (those who work in the private sector) desperately want the jobs associated with drilling, mining, and building the infrastructure to make those things happen. Many of the big unions, from the Teamsters to the welders and pipefitters, support the project and have furiously objected to Obama’s decision. The project creates 10,000 jobs that would pay between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. This isn’t minimum-wage stuff we are talking about.

Obama has made the laughable claim recently that the pipeline would lead to “only 50 permanent jobs.” So a $3 billion multistate pipeline that stretches more than 1,000 miles shouldn’t go forward, because it won’t boost employment permanently? Someone might want to explain to the president that in the private sector there is no such thing as a permanent job. (Those are to be found only in the government.)

We will surely see more of these blue-versus-green economic-development battles emerge in the months and years ahead. Already West Virginia has flipped from Democratic blue to Republican red in recent years because of the Left’s war on coal, while other resource states — including Colorado, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, and, who knows, maybe even New York — could shift into the red column once the old blue-collar Reagan Democrats realize that the greens who run and now finance the Democratic party have become unhinged, and constitute a clear and present danger to the jobs and livelihoods of middle-class America.

Hollywood elites, and billionaire hedge-fund managers like Tom Steyer, can live with that result. A Pew Research poll has found that Keystone is unpopular with only two demographic groups: Democrats who earn more than $100,000 and Democrats with postgraduate degrees.

But the working class in America that cares a lot more about a paycheck than about stopping the rise of the oceans is tiring of being the frontline victim of this green menace. Barack Obama won the 2012 election because he persuaded middle-class voters that he cares more about them than do the Republicans. The latest Keystone XL pipeline travesty is the most recent evidence that this is a lot of bunk.

 - Stephen Moore is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Stephen Moore Distinguished Visiting Fellow
Project for Economic Growth

Originally appeared in the National Review Online