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48 Hours Later—Update on Keystone XL

Climate

Bill McKibben

About 48 hours ago, I told you we’d probably have a clearer picture of what was going on with the pipeline fight in 48 hours.

I was wrong, mistaken, and also incorrect. As it stands now, things in Washington couldn’t be muddier. The Senate, with the White House’s consent, passed a payroll tax cut plan with a rider attached that would have forced a speedy review of Keystone. That sounds bad—except that administration spokesmen said quite bluntly that if they were forced to do a quick review they’d deny the permit.

That sounds good—except that now the Tea Party caucus in the House has decided they don’t want the payroll tax cut, and they do want the Senate to come back to DC for more talks, and…you get the drift. At least for the moment, Keystone is flotsam on the unchartable tides of DC politics.

We’re monitoring it as closely as we can, and if anything definitive emerges from the money-filled rooms, or if there’s any obvious action that you can take beyond all the emailing and phone-calling to date, we’ll tell you immediately. Keep an eye on your email inbox, please—and in the meantime we’ll be posting play-by-play updates to our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. You can also join our rapid-response SMS network by using your cell phone to text the word "PLUGIN" to the number 50555.

Here’s one thing that’s emerged more plainly with each passing day. Right now in Washington, money rules. Sooner or later Big Oil will ram Keystone, and fracking, and a thousand other bad ideas down our throats unless we manage to change the system. That’s what we’re going to have to work on next year if we have any hope of ever bringing climate change under control. I think part of the problem is: we’ve come to feel that money’s hammerlock on policy is sad but completely inevitable.

We’ve let ourselves be cynical, which is understandable (the Capitol should have an Exxon sign out front, and a couple of pumps, and a grubby bathroom) but also weak.

Instead, I think we need to stand up for a certain kind of naïveté. We need to say it’s not right that the 234 House members who voted for Keystone last week had taken $42 million in dirty energy money. It’s no different than if before next weekend’s Patriots-Miami game, the owner of the Dolphins trotted out to midfield and handed each referee ten grand. It stinks.

Next year, we’ll be delivering this message to Representatives and Senators everywhere: if the energy industry is giving you presents, you shouldn’t be giving them presents back. Not with our money, and not with our landscape.

Apologies again for misleading you about how quickly we’d know the score in DC. I underestimated, not for the first and not for the last time, how screwed up the place really is. But we can do something about that. And we will.

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