The president faces a dilemma. He is being pressured to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the need for energy and because of the huge moneyed interests behind it. He is being pressured to block the pipeline because of the project's potential contribution to climate change and the fierce opposition to Keystone in much of the environmental movement.
It is likely that President Obama will approve the pipeline. This would be unfortunate because the issue of climate change deserves far more weight than it gets in our political process, and the fossil fuel industry should have far less clout.
However, there's a way the President could mitigate the political damage he would suffer from either side while helping to direct our public conversation to what needs to be done to prevent climate change. The president should say:
"I will approve the Keystone XL pipeline, but only as part of a comprehensive package of measures to deal with the problem of climate change, a plan about which our children and grandchildren could say, 'They did what we needed them to do.'"
The president is often held hostage by his political opponents. Two can play at that game.
By reframing the argument, the president would move the spotlight from himself to Congress, pressuring it to deal responsibly with a clear and present danger.
Approving the pipeline in isolation would be irresponsible. Approving it in conjunction with only what the president can do about climate change by himself would be weak. Approving it as part of a good overall plan would be responsible. And good politics.
Andy Schmookler, Orkney Springs