Quid Pro Quo on Keystone approval? Not likely.
As we wait for President Obama and the State Department to make a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, talk seems to have shifted away from why the pipeline should be rejected to what should be done in the event the project is approved. Thomas Friedman, for example, wrote that Bill McKibben and 350.org activists should "go crazy" if it is approved. Vice President Joe Biden let it be known he opposes the pipeline, but is in the minority in the administration, suggesting he's putting himself in the right light to divert blame if it is approved.
John Broder at The New York Times lists some problems with using Keystone XL approval as a quid pro quo for other action on climate change:
First, pipeline opponents say there is no possible deal that could compensate for the environmental damage created by the construction of the pipeline and expanded development of the Canadian oil sands. They have described the pipeline as a fuse to one of the biggest carbon bombs on the planet, and said that extracting and burning all the oil in the Alberta oil sands would mean the game was over for global climate.
“Approving the pipeline would be a deep self-inflicted wound on the Obama administration, greater than anything else he has done,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club and a leader of the antipipeline movement. “This was not inherited from the Bush administration and it can’t be passed off to his successor. It really is Obama’s alone. Whatever damage the decision would do to the environmental movement pales in comparison to the damage it would do to his own legacy.”
Jonathan Chait and David Roberts each had a good read on the new power plant regulations Obama could implement later in this second term. Broder does not see this as a likely bargaining chip in the debate over Keystone XL.
UPDATE: Another good reason Keystone won't be used as a bargaining chip to gain support for regulating existing power plants is that these regulations are legal obligations. David Roberts explains:
EPA is not “bypassing” Congress, or going around it, or in any way exceeding its authority. It is not even acting on Obama’s discretion, not really. It is simply carrying out the will of Congress, as embodied in the Clean Air Act.
Yes, EPA can slow-walk this, maybe even enough to punt rules for existing CO2 sources to the next administration (though I don’t think it will). Or it could conceivably issue toothless rules (this I’m 50/50 on). Or it could issue good rules and see them struck down by a reactionary D.C. Circuit Court, a disturbingly plausible outcome.
But what it can’t do is just decide not to issue existing-source rules.