Today, President Obama announced he will “fast track” the permitting of the southern half of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a far cry from what the pipeline’s backers had sought, and the timing of the announcement has led to suspicions that the Obama administration is seeking a way to blunt criticism of the January rejection of the full project. The recent rise in gas prices also has had the president looking for ways to show that he is trying to help bring down the cost of energy even while claiming a general inability of government to do so.
Needless to say, there will be mixed reactions to this partial permitting announcement. Although most would have to acknowledge some benefit to the partial construction of the pipeline, the section being fast-tracked is only a fraction of the total project. As the general election season draws near, will the Keystone XL Pipeline turn into the 2012 version of Sarah Palin’s support for the Bridge to Nowhere that was resurrected as an issue when she was named John McCain’s running mate? Except in this case, it wouldn’t be support for an expensive government project with questionable benefits, but rather the government’s lack of support for a private sector project with multiple unquestionable benefits, not the least of which would be thousands of jobs. The president can only hope that the parallel doesn’t catch on.