Coloradans may have just received the disturbing truth as to why their two U.S. senators were missing in action when Congress was ready to vote to put thousands of Americans to work on the Keystone XL pipeline. Sadly, the reason is partisan politics – or rather, millions of dollars in campaign contributions from a California billionaire.
The good news is that there is still time for both senators to do the right thing for their constituents. In fact, their two votes would almost certainly put a Keystone XL bill on the president’s desk, finally putting an end to the politics of delay.
In Colorado, both Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet have consistently denounced the Washington politics miring President Obama’s Keystone XL decision. Bennet told The Wall Street Journal, “I do support [Keystone XL]. I think it’s become ridiculously political. It just has become another one of those idiotic Washington political games that bounces back and forth and doesn’t actually accomplish anything.”
Udall added: “I think there is a reasonable argument that the pipeline is in the national interest. I also think there are serious questions about air quality, water quality and land-use effects on the pipeline. Am I frustrated it’s taken this long? Yes, but the important goal is to get it right.”
Given these strong statements, one would expect both Colorado senators to be leaders in the recent bipartisan effort in the Senate to end this political delay. Yet even after the State Department found – for the fifth time in five years – that Keystone XL would have minimal impact to the environment, neither Udall or Bennet joined their 11 Democratic colleagues who called on the president to finally make a decision on the pipeline.
As the Wall Street Journal rightly noted, “Notably absent from the letter are Colorado’s two Democratic senators: Mark Udall, who is up for reelection this year, and Michael Bennet, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and voted yes on a symbolic measure last year.”
One week after the letter was sent to the president, the administration announced it was delaying its final determination on the pipeline until after the midterm elections. That spurred a call to action: a strong coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate immediately introduced legislation to force President Obama to approve the pipeline. Forty-five Republicans and 11 Democrats signed on to the bill. But once again, Udall and Bennet were nowhere to be found.
In fact, the failure of Colorado’s senators to join the effort is one of the main reasons the bill didn’t make it across the finish line. Their two votes – given their positions within the party – would have likely meant the bill would have secured the 60 votes necessary to pass in the Senate. Again, due to partisan politics, the bill never got a vote.
What’s behind the senators’ failure to stand up for Coloradans? Perhaps the answer came when California billionaire and anti-Keystone XL activist, Tom Steyer announced he will be pouring millions of dollars into a select set of U.S. Senate campaigns across the country, including Colorado.
Udall’s ties with Steyer are well documented; earlier this year he attended a fundraiser held at Steyer’s home in San Francisco. That fundraiser was to support the national Democratic organization focused on electing Democrats to the Senate, which is headed by Bennet. It’s hardly surprising to learn therefore, that after Bennet and Udall refused to join the bipartisan effort to approve the pipeline, that Steyer vowed to make Udall’s reelection this year a top priority.
This disturbing political reality comes despite overwhelming bipartisan support for Keystone XL in Colorado. Former Obama appointee and former Colorado U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar put it best when he said construction of Keystone XL can “be done in a way that creates a win-win for energy and the environment.” Polls conducted in the state show 66 percent of Colorado voters support Keystone XL.
Those polls mirror the results in national polls, which find a clear majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support the project. That’s why union and labor groups have rallied across the country to tell President Obama to approve Keystone XL. That’s why former Obama national security advisors such as Gen. Jim Jones and Thomas Donilon support Keystone XL. That’s why 11 Democrats signed on to a letter urging President Obama to let his “final decision be the right one, finding that the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.” It’s no wonder that a recent poll found that over 60 percent of Americans believe the delay in Keystone XL is due to politics rather than “legitimate concerns” about the pipeline.
The decision to end the politics of delay over the Keystone XL pipeline is in the hands of Colorado’s two senators. Will they stand up for their constituents or stand by a California billionaire?
So far, it seems they have made the wrong choice. But there is still time to change course – in doing so they could help put tens of thousands of Americans to work and significantly strengthen our energy security.
Matt Dempsey is the spokesperson for Oil Sands Fact Check.