The Democratic Party Just Declared Its Opposition to Keystone XL. Was It An Accident?

A DNC email bashing Keystone may force Obama to take a firm position on the issue.

Branko Marcetic

Pipes for Keystone Pipeline near Swanton, Nebraska. (Creative Commons/Shannon Patrick)

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On Monday night, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sent an email to its subscribers celebrating the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline, despite the fact the neither the Democratic Party — which the DNC governs — nor President Obama have officially opposed the project.

The email puts the Democratic Party in the awkward position of being ahead of its own leader on a contentious issue.

The email was prompted by an unexpected announcement earlier that night by TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the 1,179-mile pipeline that would pump tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. TransCanada asked for its U.S. permit application to be placed on hold while it finishes negotiating with the state of Nebraska over the pipeline’s route through the state. In response, the DNC sent an urgent email to its subscribers last night, for the first time explicitly opposing the project and calling for Democrats’ continued support in halting it. The email reads in part:

Earlier this year, thousands of Democrats backed President Obama when he vetoed Keystone XL. … We made our voices heard that we would stand up to protect our planet for future generations.

The email goes on to warn, what happened tonight is far from victory,” and asks recipients to add their name to a statement that they are still in to fight climate change” and will keep standing with President Obama.”

The only problem is, neither the Democrats nor President Obama have come out against Keystone. Obama vetoed the bill on the grounds that Congress was trying to circumvent the executive-branch review process. While Obama has expressed skepticism about the controversial project, the most he has said was in a speech to South Carolina’s Benedict College earlier this year:

I haven’t made a final determination on it, but what I’ve said is, we’re not going to authorize a pipeline that benefits largely a foreign company if it can’t be shown that it is safe and if it can’t be shown that overall it would not contribute to climate change.

The email therefore puts the Democratic Party in the awkward position of being ahead of its own leader on a contentious issue. And with all three of the Democratic presidential candidates opposing the pipeline — including, after much vacillation, front-runner Hillary Clinton—Obama appears to be increasingly isolated within his own party.

The President and the DNC will have to either pretend this email never happened or claim it was a mistake. Or perhaps — now that the pipeline decision will likely be delayed until the next president takes office — Obama will simply throw caution to the wind and denounce Keystone. 

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Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin magazine and a 2019 – 2020 Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting fellow. He is the author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

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