President Obama's political friends yesterday left him very little room to maneuver on the politically controversial Keystone XL pipeline, taking turns panning the project at a Center for American Progress event attended by some of the most influential Democrats in Washington, D.C.
Former Vice President Al Gore issued the bluntest indictment of the project, comparing American's "addiction" to fossil fuels to a heroin addict's need for a fix.
"You know, junkies find veins in their toes when the ones in their arms and legs give out," Gore told an appreciative crowd in a Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom.
"We are now at the point where we're going after these dirty and dangerous carbon-based fuels," he said.
TransCanada Corp's proposed Alberta-to-Texas pipeline would carry oil from Canada's oil sands region to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Oil sands production is more carbon-intensive than most petroleum production, though how much more is subject to debate.
Environmentalists say crude from oil sands carries a well-to-wheels carbon footprint that is 25 percent greater than that of conventional crude, while the State Department in its environmental analysis puts the oil sands premium at 17 percent and the industry puts it at 8 percent or less. Industry also says that moving product via pipeline is safer and cleaner than relying on rail or barge transport.
The State Department is working to finalize its environmental impact analysis for TransCanada's proposed project, but the president will have the ultimate say on whether the pipeline is permitted. Obama has committed to evaluate Keystone XL's effect on atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions when deciding whether to allow the project to go forward.
His first-term climate change "czar," Carol Browner, said yesterday that she expected that evaluation to lead to rejection of Keystone.
"I think it's a standard that can get him to know, and that's important, right?" she said.
Green For All President and former White House adviser Van Jones said approval of the project would be untenable.
"This thing will go from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico, it will risk 60 percent of our aquifers, no one knows how to clean it up," he said, adding that anyone who believes in global warming or "high-minded American politics" or who doesn't "want to be drinking tar" should oppose the project.
Billionaire climate activist and donor Tom Steyer, who has invested heavily in political candidates like now-Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who oppose Keystone XL, said Obama must veto the project or forfeit America's leadership on climate change internationally. He would not answer reporters' questions after the CAP forum on future plans for his campaign against the pipeline.
The only participant in the policy forum who will be directly involved in the decision on Keystone XL was Secretary of State John Kerry. The career-long advocate for climate action skirted the issue in his remarks, instead touting international energy policy as the key to combating climate change.
Gore also used his address to pan the influence moneyed interests like Koch Industries have on American politics, declaring that democracy has been "hacked" and that structural changes are needed before issues like climate change can be addressed.
"The Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch are full of passionate intensity," he said, paraphrasing the famous William Butler Yeats quote.
"But because they have taken so much control over the operations of our democracy doesn't mean we cannot take it back," he added.