Analysis: Polarized politics dictated Obama Keystone call

November 9, 2015

Bismarck Tribune

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's decision to block the Keystone XL oil pipeline has exposed an endlessly polarized Washington, and likely hardened its divides.

Obama is now being praised to the skies by environmentalists and most Democrats, and denounced in apocalyptic terms by Republicans and the business community. And although environmental issues once produced bipartisan agreement in Congress, consensus on action to increase energy production or deal with climate change looks farther away than ever.

"This became a tribal issue of bizarre proportion," said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Grumet said voters support Keystone and infrastructure projects, as well as action on climate change. "And unfortunately rather than recognizing the opportunity to do both, we now have a country that's essentially doing neither," he said.

Seven years in the making, Obama's decision to reject the Keystone pipeline to carry crude oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast was not a foregone conclusion, at least not initially. From one perspective the pipeline is merely an infrastructure project, unlikely to cause major lasting impacts on jobs or the environment, according to government analyses. In 2010, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said her department was inclined to sign off on it.

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