WASHINGTON — The Obama administration punted yet again on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline pushing it past the November election, but key Senate Democrats who support the project aren’t willing to drop the issue.
Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who recently took over as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, condemned the evasion and pledged to continue using her position of power to force the issue.
“This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu’s committee that includes Colorado Democrat Sen. Mark Udall plans to move forward with a hearing scheduled for May, despite the administration’s delay that it blamed on a Nebraska lawsuit over the pipeline’s route.
Support for the pipeline by nearly a dozen pro-energy Democrats including Landrieu is making life uncomfortable for vulnerable Democrats like Udall and others who represent states where energy is a driving economic factor.
A poll released last month in Colorado showed that voters here would be less likely to support Udall if Obama had decided to reject the pipeline.
Udall has struggled to position himself as a moderate Democrat but sends mixed messages when it comes to energy development. He has refused to back construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, but he supports increased exportation of liquefied natural gas, a product that relies on fracking. The 63-year-old incumbent is married to well-known environmentalist Maggie Fox.
Udall did not issue a statement on the Obama administration’s delay that came just prior to the Easter holiday weekend.
However, his Republican opponent Rep, Cory Gardner said the Obama administration is playing politics with the U.S. economy.
“Unfortunately, Sen. Udall’s decision to sit on the sidelines as America comes closer and closer to losing a project that would create thousands of jobs and help bolster economic growth is symbolic of his 16 years in Washington,” Gardner said in a statement.
“While Sen. Udall has voted over 99 percent of the time with President Obama, Coloradans continue to see that Sen. Udall is just along for the ride,” Gardner said.
Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, said the Democratic Party split over the project is likely to spill into the November election.
The schism showed itself earlier this month when nearly a dozen Senate Democrats, including five running for reelection in competitive campaigns, urged Obama to announce his decision by May 31. Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats voted at their state assembly April 12 to oppose the pipeline.
“What is happening in the Democratic Party is very interesting,” Kish said.
“Polls show that the only group of people in the Democratic Party that oppose Keystone are the elites, people who make a lot of money. They only thing they support are the things that need a subsidy to keep going.”
“Then you have working class Democrats and they want the jobs and the lower energy costs that come from it – the people in labor unions, Reagan Democrats, people who work with their hands,” Kish said.
“The party is splitting between them and an elite few at top – the Barbra Streisands and Tom Steyers, the multi-millionaire types who don’t have to pump their own gas, anyway,” Kish said.
The liberal Daily Kos said in a post Friday that the Obama administration’s punt on the decision “seems highly likely it could help Democrats” in the November election.
“If the president were to approve the pipeline before then, it could hurt Democratic turnout from the party’s more liberal and environmentally active members,” the Daily Kos said. “If he rejected it, the fallout from fossil-fuel state Democrats and union members who support building Keystone could hurt the party’s chances. No decision, little impact.”
However, Landrieu is undeterred and plans to push forward with the May hearing, and also says she will introduce legislation to release the $5.4 billion project from its five-year limbo.