Keystone Pipeline Opponent Will Be Active in 2014 Races

Anti-energy policies could push Democratic Party to the left ahead of 2014

A pink ribbon marks the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline through farmland near Bradshaw, Neb. / AP
July 24, 2013

After helping to bankroll Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey’s successful Senate campaign, environmental activist Bill McKibben said Tuesday that he and his advocacy group Action will remain involved in electoral politics in 2014.

McKibben has been highly active in opposing the Keystone pipeline despite its widespread approval among the American people. He backed Markey primarily due to his shared antipathy to the project.

McKibben said the election in Massachusetts marked a "rare political intervention for those of us at 350, but I’d imagine we will try to do more," at a Tuesday press conference held by the Natural Resource Defense Council.

"Anybody, at this point, who stands up for the fossil fuel industry and its desire to tap the tar sands [Canadian oil reserves] doesn’t deserve to be called a political leader, and we’ll do our best to make sure that their careers are short," McKibben said.

McKibben also praised the efforts of billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditure support for Markey’s campaign and will also remain involved in the political sphere going forward.

Together, the two represent the foremost political force attempting to drag Democrats to the left on energy policy.

The Keystone pipeline has been their most prominent issue to date. While they are expending considerable political energy opposing the project, polls consistently show the public favors its approval.

The latest such poll, released last week by National Journal, showed that 67 percent of adults want the pipeline built. Only 24 percent oppose its construction.

The disconnect between the energy policy positions of the general public and the base of the Democratic Party could prove a political liability for the party during the 2014 midterm elections.

Republicans have settled on energy policy as a major area of pushback against the president’s legislative and regulatory agendas.

Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) signaled on Tuesday that he would move forward with an amendment to an energy efficiency bill currently making its way through the chamber.

Even Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), who has previously said she supports Keystone, noted that there is "a growing impatience with this administration," which has repeatedly delayed approving the project.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has refused to bring prior energy efficiency legislation to the floor due to the potential for Keystone-related amendments, suggesting he is not eager to force his conference to vote on such language.

Republicans sense vulnerability in Democratic support for energy policy positions that put them outside of the mainstream of public opinion.

"One of the Democrats' dirty little secrets that will be exposed in 2014 is how extreme they are on this broader issue," Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon in an email.

"Every rational person wants to protect our environment, but the Democrats' vision quickly leaves the rational behind," Dayspring added. "Democrats are anti-coal. Democrats are anti-oil. Democrats are anti-fracking. Democrats are anti-American energy."

Environmental activists protested a Monday event by Organizing for Action (OFA), the shadowy activist group that evolved from the president’s reelection campaign, to demand that the president reject the Keystone pipeline.

An event organizer from the Sierra Club, a hardline environmentalist group, declined to answer a Free Beacon reporter’s questions about the protests.

OFA itself has promoted a hardline environmentalist position on major energy issues. Jon Carson, the group’s executive director, named climate change as one of its four top issues.

Logon Dobson, a pollster with the Tarrance Group, noted at the time that the focus on environmental policy and other issues that tend to rile up OFA’s liberal base were not the issues that Americans generally rank as most important to them.

"The types of issues OFA is saying are the ‘big issues they care about’ rarely exceed 10 percent in the polls, and even then in moments when they dominate the news cycle," Dobson noted.