Think of it as a prospective irony: in a spirit of pure, blind partisanship, the drill-baby-drill folks in the Republican Party may have done themselves in. After all, their obsession with the Benghazi incident led them to launch a preemptive strike against the president's choice for secretary of state, Susan Rice, for her statements on what happened when the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were murdered there. They sent her nomination down in flames. In the process, it’s just possible that they took out something far dearer to them.
Though it didn’t get much attention during her disastrous nomination moment, we did learn that Rice and her husband had made significant investments in companies connected to the Canadian tar-sands industry and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring the resulting crude (and carbon-dirty) oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. They reportedly had $300,000-$600,000 in stock in TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.
In addition, “about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel,” including Enbridge, a company which hopes to build another tar-sands pipeline. Had she been secretary of state, she might have had one of the great conflicts of interest of our time (or a major divestment problem).
Congress seems desperate to see that pipeline built. More than half the Senate -- 44 Republicans, including key Rice opponent John McCain, and nine Democrats -- signed a letter to that effect, but it matters little. Because of the international border Keystone XL crosses, only two people stand between us and its construction, the secretary of state and President Obama, who alone will make the final decision on whether the project should proceed. The president's second choice for secretary of state, who recently swept through the nomination process, is of course former Senator John Kerry, a “climate hawk” who has already said that he will be deeply involved in the State Department's review of the pipeline. (It’s worth noting that TransCanada, trying to cover all its bases, hired one of Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign staffers as a lobbyist, along with “heavyweights” from past Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential runs, and that Kerry does have to divest himself of holdings in two Canadian energy companies which have supported the pipeline.)
No one, of course, can know what the new secretary of state and the president will decide. They are, however, already being pushed hard by a growing coalition of environmentally oriented groups, fearful of what it would mean to get all those tar sands out of the ground and (as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. In addition, this coming Sunday, February 17th, an enormous “forward on climate” rally is to take place in Washington. Originally organized by 350.org and Bill McKibben but now involving dozens of groups, it is expected to draw worried protestors (including this writer) from all over to demonstrate on the National Mall. The goal is, in part, to push President Obama to make the necessary decision on the Keystone pipeline. It’s remarkable that one man has the power to shoot this project down. As energy expert Michael Klare explains in his latest piece, “A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World,” should he do so, the tar-sands industry might never recover. That would lend a genuine hand to our over-heating planet, which means there has seldom been a situation where demonstrations to pressure a president were more in order.