Political Theater Alert: Obama "Fast Tracks" Half of Keystone XL

During a stop in Cushing, Oklahoma on a tour intended to promote his energy policies, Obama announced that he has issued an executive order to fast-track the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Cushing, a large oil storage site, is where construction would begin. Building the pipeline would relieve an oil "bottleneck" and help relax gas prices elsewhere in the nation, the administration argues.

The true intent of the move is political, of course—attacks on Obama's energy policies, dubious as they are, continue to escalate from his Republican opponents. Sure, those attacks are based entirely in fantasy: Romney, Gingrich, and friends falsely claim that Obama's over-regulation and anti-drilling stances have resulted in high prices, even though they know full well that global oil demand and volatility in exporting nations is truly to blame. But the public is responding to their 'Drill Now' sloganeering nonetheless.

So this stop in Oklahoma is a merely a bit of political theater intended to prove to regular ol' Americans that Obama is cool with drilling, and that he's doing everything he can, darnit, to lower gas prices.

Before making the stop, the Obama administration issued the order, "which will require agencies to make faster permitting and review decisions for vital infrastructure projects while protecting the health and vitality of local communities and the environment." The new order will allegedly "significantly reduce the amount of time it takes the Federal government to make permitting and review decisions for infrastructure projects such as roads and surface transportation, aviation ... and pipelines."

Additionally, Obama is issuing a specific memorandum "directing federal agencies to expedite the Cushing Pipeline and other pipelines that relieve bottlenecks as the top priority of the new EO’s permitting process".

Keystone XL opponents are justifiably incensed, as, just a few months ago, the president denied a permit to the northern portion of the same pipeline. Opposition mounted to that pipeline because it would carry tar sands oil, a particularly dirty kind of crude that would deepen the nation's addiction to oil and make it more difficult to transition away from the fossil fuels that are causing climate change.

In response to Obama's speech today, environmentalist Bill McKibben said, "no movie producer, fifty years from now, will be able to resist a scene that explains the depth of our addiction to oil: the president coming to the state that just recorded the hottest summer in American history, in the very week that the nation has seen the weirdest heat wave in its history, and promising not to slow down climate change but instead to speed up the building of pipelines."

Speculation runs rampant about whether Obama will eventually approve the whole thing—a Politico reporter claimed that a top energy aide had told the Cushing mayor that he would, but the administration has denied that account.

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