With a second term now in hand, President Obama no longer can delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and must either side with environmentalists within his party or greenlight a major step toward North American energy independence.
The pipeline decision could be an early sign for the direction of Mr. Obama’s green agenda for the next four years, after a campaign in which he sparred with Republican opponent Mitt Romney over the pipeline and on issues such as subsidies for alternative energy companies, the future of the coal industry, and drilling policy on federal lands and along the nation’s coasts.
Green-energy and environmental groups said Wednesday that they were buoyed by the president’s re-election and that they think it will kick off another chapter for clean energy in America. Mr. Obama’s previous attempt to tackle carbon emissions, the ill-fated and unpopular “cap-and-trade bill,” died in the Democrat-dominated Congress during Mr. Obama’s first two years in office, but many of the president’s supporters see his re-election as an opportunity to resurrect it.
“The public stands with us from clean energy to addressing climate change. This election and our polling indicate a mandate from the American people on the environment and public health. Now is the time to act,” said Heather Taylor-Miesele, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.
“The environment won, and polluting industries lost. There is no clearer way to state it,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. “The biggest winners last night are the generations yet to come as Americans overwhelmingly chose to leave them a cleaner, better world in which to live.”
Supporters and opponents of the $7 billion Keystone project wasted little time in putting pressure on the president after Tuesday’s vote. Within hours of the Democrat’s win, each side again made its case to Mr. Obama, who late last year put off a decision about the pipeline.
“Americans have made their decision. Right off the bat, the president can approve the Keystone pipeline and put thousands of Americans to work immediately,” said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.
The institute and other groups have criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the project, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries through a massive pipeline stretching through the U.S. heartland down to the Texas coast.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Mr. Romney cited the issue as an example of the president’s unwillingness to take advantage of North American energy resources as a way to free the nation from the grip of Middle Eastern oil.
But Mr. Obama, sensitive to the environmental movement that helps form the base of the Democratic Party, deferred a decision when it appeared that the State Department was about to approve the project. Criticism from environmentalists will grow louder now that they think Mr. Obama can stop the pipeline without sustaining political damage.
In fact, they say he now has a mandate to take more drastic steps to reduce the use of fossil fuels, promote “green” energy alternatives and cut carbon emissions through taxes and regulations.
Within minutes of Mr. Obama’s victory, a coalition of environmental groups announced a major demonstration at the White House on Nov. 18 to urge the president to reject the pipeline as part of a larger strategy to address climate change.
“Now that the election is over, a decision by the president is imminent. Keystone XL is still a crazy idea, a giant straw into the second-biggest pool of carbon,” reads the coalition’s announcement, signed by the Sierra Club and nearly a dozen other groups. “Barack Obama is now even more the man who holds the fate of the tar sands expansion in his hands. We simply need to let the president know we haven’t forgotten, and that our conviction hasn’t cooled.”
Their cautious faith in Mr. Obama in regard to the pipeline is indicative of a larger issue: Environmentalists and others hope that the president will begin making tough decisions in his second term on delicate issues such as climate change.
He addressed the issue, which had been largely absent from the presidential campaign, during his victory speech in Chicago on Tuesday night.
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” Mr. Obama said.
He also declared that freeing the nation from its reliance on foreign oil would be a top priority of his second term.
Political leaders on the world stage and in the U.S. appear eager to see Mr. Obama take action to address climate change.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Mr. Obama on his victory and said he looks forward “to promoting sustainable development and tackling the challenges posed by climate change.” New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sounded a similar note in the days before the vote, endorsing Mr. Obama as a president “to lead on climate change.”