Click for an enlarged version of the pipeline map (image source: US Department of State)

Click for an enlarged version of the pipeline map (image source: US Department of State)

Elections 2012: The Keystone Energy Debate – Romney Yes, Obama a Strong Maybe

It would be nice if an election was a referendum on every issue we cared about. One candidate for, one against. But American politics are far too complicated for that idea and Wednesday’s presidential debate between the incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and challenger Republican Mitt Romney is a case in point. Watch what they say about energy and the environment.

Romney’s position is clear. Last June he said the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would be approved on “day one” of his administration. “If I have to build it myself, we’ll get that oil into America,” he said. Romney and Republican supporters of the pipeline insist that the project will create jobs and lower the price of gasoline for consumers.

So Democrats must be against it, right? Not exactly.

The Obama administration last May, essentially, delayed making a decision requiring TransCanada to come up with an alternative route through Nebraska. Only after the election will the final Obama Administration policy be revealed. Since then landowners in Nebraska tried to block the pipeline through litigation – a process that continues to unfold.

But as The Washington Post noted last month that even “after Trans-Canada has secured the right to build from federal and state officials, it still could run into a hitch on — or near — tribal land.” Indian country could have a say through legal and political channels that slow down or make the process far more expensive.

And, while not every tribe is opposing the project, there is serious opposition found in Indian country. “The Keystone XL pipeline … would threaten, among other things, water aquifers, water ways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other resources vital to the peoples of the region in which the pipeline is proposed to be constructed,” said resolution passed by the National Congress of American Indians in June.

“Homeland and economic security starts with energy security, but Indian country wants it to be done right; not at the expense of the health of our communities and resources, both tribal and non-tribal, ” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel. “During challenging economic times in our country and in our tribal nations, domestic energy when developed responsibly can create jobs while ensuring that our people and natural resources remain safe and plentiful.”

One environmental group,, has accused Canada of “being a bully” in its efforts to stop dissent. “Right now, 9 protesters from the Tar Sands Blockade are sitting in the trees of Winnsboro, East Texas, where they have stopped construction on the Southern leg of Keystone XL for days running,” the organization said. “There is no excuse for risking the safety of nonviolent protesters. None. At a minimum, TransCanada should stop construction on the pipeline until you can guarantee the safety of nonviolent protestors.”

Bill McKibben, a well-known environmental activist is the founder of

Other anti-Keystone videos are found on YouTube, several of which focus on Lakota homelands.

Environmental groups are hoping that Keystone as well as other issues involving climate change are a part of Wednesday’s debate. On Friday the League of Conservation Voters presented debate moderator, Jim Lehrer from PBS, with a petition signed by 160,000 people to make sure the issue is discussed. “As renowned climate scientist James Hansen recently put it, ‘It is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.’”

Hansen, one of the first scientists to warn about global warming, has said that building the Keystone pipeline would be “game over” on the climate front. He told Inside Climate News that if Obama “chooses the dirty needle it is game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction. Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer. So if the United States is buying the dirtiest stuff, it also surely will be going after oil in the deepest ocean, the Arctic, and shale deposits; and harvesting coal via mountaintop removal and long-wall mining. Obama will have decided he is a hopeless addict.”

However the American Petroleum Institute has its own YouTube channel promoting the pipeline, calling on Obama to approve the project and create jobs.

Wednesday’s debate in Denver is scheduled to be about domestic issues, including energy. Romney will again be clear about his desire to build the pipeline. The more interesting question is what will President Obama say? Or will he again be a strong maybe?

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is:


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Elections 2012: The Keystone Energy Debate – Romney Yes, Obama a Strong Maybe