- - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Democrats are losing the ideological lockstep that has been the key to their success. A split over the Keystone XL oil pipeline has put the party’s traditional union core at loggerheads with the advocates of the “green” economy. In his haste to “fundamentally transform” America, President Obama has inadvertently led his party to a decision point over energy policy that can only mean Splitsville.

Mr. Obama tried to shove the Keystone controversy to the back burner until after the November midterm elections, directing his State Department to delay a decision on whether building the pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast is in the national interest. But not so fast with delay. Five unions, including the Laborers’ International Union of North America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and North America’s Building Trades Unions, sent a letter to key U.S. senators, imploring them to remove the pipeline project from “political limbo.”

The unions and the Democratic Party have long fashioned a cozy loop: union donations elect Democrats who support union jobs that send more donations to Democrats, and back again. But the road paved with gold comes to a fork in the road called Keystone. The conduit from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast promises tens of thousands of well-paying jobs for a core Democratic constituency, the blue-collar construction workers. Unions say oil jobs are right for America, and they’re not taking no for an answer.

The environmental left, which hates affordable energy, has implored Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton to champion their efforts to kill the pipeline. “Given your long-standing advocacy for the environment and the importance of battling the climate crisis, your involvement would lend an important voice to the struggle against this dangerous pipeline,” 30 green groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, told her in a joint letter.

There’s more than friendship in play. Environmentalists occupy the boardrooms of the windmill and solar-panel industry that the president has propped up with federal dollars. In return for backing Democrats, they demand that the president hold the line against Keystone and assist their fading effort to sell the proposition that powering America on sun, wind and algae is the only way to eliminate “global warming.” Vice President Joe Biden will headline a Democratic fundraiser on Wednesday at the San Francisco home of green billionaire Tom Steyer. The unions have contributed more than $24 million to Democrats so far in this midterm election cycle, but Mr. Steyer has one-upped them by dangling the prospect of $100 million in cash.

Beyond the caviar, brie and electric car enclaves, America runs on conventional energy. By 2040, despite massive subsidies, the Energy Information Administration estimates, the $30 trillion U.S. economy will derive a puny 8 percent of its energy from wind and sun. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican, crunched the numbers and made a sharp U-turn on the road to alternative energy. Last week, he backed legislation that would suspend for two years his state’s renewable-power programs. “They are simply unrealistic and will drive up energy costs for job creators and consumers,” he said.

Democrats who can count will follow Mr. Kasich’s lead. Those who bear left at that fork in the road to sustainable energy will risk all for a reward, if there is one, that will be small, indeed.