How the Keystone XL Could Still Lurch Back to Life

The Keystone XL has become a lumbering zombie. A small but stalwart band of environmentalists, student activists, farmers, and concerned citizens have knocked the oil pipeline plans down a couple times, even hacked off a limb or two, but onward it staggers.

Nebraskans, climate activists, and a slew of others took to the White House last summer to stage a popular protest. Obama listened, and announced he was delaying the project until a proper environmental review could be carried out. But again the specter of the pipeline rose, when congressional Republicans tried to sneak it into a payroll tax cut bill. Pipeline opponents kept the pressure on, and the Obama administration shot that effort down too.

But it wasn't enough to kill the pipeline for good. There's been no money shot. No proverbial shotgun-blast to the Zombie XL's brains, if you will. So it keeps getting reanimated by the GOP, which is under pressure to bring it to life from two distinct sources: The oil industry, which, duh, wants the infrastructure and the new supply, and now, conservative pundits like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. The pundits have successfully transformed the pipeline into a culture war issue, falsely meted out as 'Oil from friendly neighbors and construction jobs = good, radical environmentalists who want to destroy the economy and freedom itself = bad'.

And now, propelled by rightwing pundit-fire and the subsequent growing interest from the conservative base, there are at least four ways that the Zombie XL could yet lurch to life.

1) It could get tacked onto the next payroll tax cut bill. Remember, the first go 'round, a rider was attached to a bill that would preserve tax cuts for the middle class that forced Obama to decide whether or not to approve the Keystone XL. He decided not to. Now, some House Republicans want to try the stunt again, since the tax cut bill was only a stopgap measure that took effect for two months. This time, they'll try to insert language that explicitly forces the approval of the pipeline. There's only mild interest in this plan, since it mucks up an issue—cutting taxes—that the GOP is supposed to dominate.

2) Failing that, Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced his intention to add a provision approving the Keystone XL to an upcoming infrastructure bill, according to the Hill. The bill will seek to snag revenue for upgrading the nation's infrastructure by "expanding domestic energy projects". If the Zombie XL wandered into that arena, it'd likely be a bit harder to kill.

3) If both fail, and TransCanada decides to reapply for a permit, there's still the possibility that it could be approved in 2013, when Obama says a new environmental review could be completed by. If the Zombie XL is still tottering around, Obama will have fewer easy ways to deny it—thus far, he's blocked approval for bureaucratic and procedural reasons, and hasn't offered a strong repudiation of the environmental hazards it poses. In other words, it could yet spring to life regardless of congressional battling, if a State Department review gives it the green light.

4. Finally, the pipeline may even be rerouted to avoid crossing the U.S.-Canada border (which is why it must receive State Dept. approval). Inside Climate details the two different ways this could happen; both would include enlisting an alternative form of transit to pick up some of the slack. In this case, the Zombie XL would, outwardly, look much different—but it would carry the same menacing intent.

Obviously, zombies can be hard to kill. And sure, the oil industry loves this one (all zombies are created by nefarious corporations of course), and it will use its expensive labs and spin doctors to keep trying to bring it back to life. But this time, the ragtag group of zombie battlers have the tools to win: A superior message (the pipeline won't create jobs, is too risky, and keeps us hooked on oil), better organizing skills, and a genuine concern for the environment and public health.

Time will tell—not all zombie movies end happily, and most, certainly, are a slog to sit through. But this is one zombie we should be able to kill.

How the Keystone XL Could Still Lurch Back to Life
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