The trouble with kicking the can down the road is that someday the road will come to an end. The biggest can now on the political highway is the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the State Department’s final environmental analysis that construction will not significantly affect overall carbon emissions (primarily because Canada will develop the Tar Sands anyway) makes it hard to evade much longer. The pipeline is the defining issue of the Obama presidency. It lays bare the conflicting philosophies of the two major wings of the Democratic Party: economic growth and environmental protection. And when your (and your opponent’s) entire 2012 election campaign can be reduced to a single word – jobs – you’ve kind of painted yourself into a corner. Bridging this divide – which dwarfs the Republicans’ Wall Street/Tea Party split that obsesses the media – is the most important issue of our time. The pressure to accept the pro-growth arguments is enormous – it will create jobs, produce North American energy, spur the economy; and “if we don’t do it, someone else will.”
Politically, this is a lose-lose issue for Obama: the party’s progressive wing has a long tradition of defining economic growth as the pathway to social justice (and also to campaign contributions); while environmentalists, who insist that such a position is obsolete and ultimately ruinous, have dug in their heels on Keystone. But I also believe it is the president’s greatest opportunity, a chance to lead a national conversation on how we will live together on this earth without destroying the things that make life possible.
Note: This post did not go out yesterday because an amazing sleet storm took down limbs, trees and my power line. I’m not suggesting it was manmade. I’m just saying it was some storm.