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Policy: Environment & Energy

Could the EPA carbon rule give Obama political cover to approve the Keystone XL pipeline?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,EPA,Ashe Schow,Keystone XL,Energy and Environment

President Obama, having just gained praise from environmental groups for the Environmental Protection Agency's new proposal to cut carbon emissions, may have the cover he needs to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Robert Stavins, a Harvard University environmental economics professor, told U.S. News that the carbon rule would give Obama “leeway” on approving the pipeline.

“The major [environmental] groups ... are uniformly pleased with the EPA proposal,” Stavins said. “Clearly that gives him some kind of leeway with Keystone, particularly given the fact that most economic analysts have said that Keystone is very likely to not have any sort of effect on CO2 emissions.”

Because of this increased political capital, Obama may be able to approve the pipeline in order to help vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 election, who voiced dismay over the carbon rule.

“The reason why I saw it’s an incentive to [approve Keystone] is not so much for himself, but the Democrats who are up for election and are now really out on a limb,” Stavins said. “It would be valuable politically to be able to say this administration is going forward with Keystone.”

Bruce Oppenheimer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor, agreed.

“He could decide it’s easier to approve Keystone and still have some credibility with environmental groups,” Oppenheimer told U.S. News. “He knows he’s going to get hammered pretty hard from pro-energy production people as it is, so adding one more thing may not have political cost to it.”

Democrats in red states - including six senators up for re-election - are already frustrated over the EPA carbon rule. If Obama wants to keep control of the Senate, he may need to approve the pipeline.

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