Obama Traps Himself Behind a Pipeline


NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As more than 30,000 descended on Washington over the weekend to protest the approval of the Keystone pipeline, the president must have really felt the heat: What will he do when the pipeline is ruled upon by the State Department in early April?

With strong rhetoric in his Inauguration and State of the Union messages, President Obama has indicated his intention to get serious about climate change -- and the approval still needed by his State department to green light the northern half of the project is the flashpoint that climate advocates have grasped to hold the president's feet to the fire.

It's going to be tough for the president to say no to it now: Through the election, he pointedly visited Cushing, Okla., stood in front of the pipeline nexus there and told the country that he was expediting the build out of the southern portion of Keystone and sending the northern portion of approval back to the States to work out an environmentally safer route. This new route was generated and approved in January by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman -- all that remains is the State Department's OK.

Even Obama's Democratic allies in Congress would be politically unhappy if the president denied approval now -- there are issues of Jobs, energy independence and promoting commerce with our friendly neighbors to the North, all hot button issues that Representatives need to be responsive to if they are to be reelected, an issue the president no longer has to worry about.

Keystone has become political Kryptonite to Democrats. Republicans, of course, unanimously want the pipeline approved.

But the president has painted himself into a corner. There is no more prominent and immediate issue for environmentalists than Keystone XL and the decision to complete it remains in his hands alone. If he won't draw a very obvious line on climate change with this pipeline permit, where can he possibly do it and still be considered sincere in his rhetoric?

I still believe the president will ultimately approve the build out, but it seems he won't be able to do it quietly or without protest. Organizations like 350.org and the Sierra club have been increasing their pressure with protests and letter writing and social media and their efforts are gaining steam. Where Keystone was all of assured three months ago, it's hardly so safe now.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.