POLITICS

Is Organizing for Action trying to provide cover for Obama on Keystone?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Environment,Barack Obama,Energy Department

Organizing for Action, the former campaign apparatus for President Obama turned “nonpartisan” and independent (yeah, right) activist group that just happens to back everything the president does, will be engaged in a big push Wednesday on climate change. OFA’s real agenda, though, appears to be to distract environmentalists from the fact that the president is likely to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Here’s how the National Journal describes what OFA is doing, giving big play to the group’s spin on the news:

While President Obama’s reelection campaign was almost completely silent on the issue of global warming, Organizing for Action, the advocacy group tooled from his 2012 campaign machine, has launched a campaign designed to build support for the president’s climate-change agenda.

The multipronged, multiyear effort aims to inject climate change into the heart of national politics—and make it an election issue as well.

Conventional wisdom held that the issue is a loser on the trail, but former campaign operatives who scrupulously avoided talking about climate change last year are now writing press releases slamming Republican lawmakers for denying the science behind it.

They’re fanning out around the country — to more than 20 states, so far — holding meetings and press conferences aimed at spurring voters to bring up the issue with elected officials. They’re preparing to fight back against a national campaign, led by a conservative advocacy group that would roll back state renewable-energy laws. They’re starting conversations in churches and town halls about extreme weather and climate-change adaptation. And, they’re laying the groundwork to win enough Senate votes to protect Obama’s ability to use his executive authority to enact climate-change regulations — with or without the consent of Congress.

So, why is OFA suddenly taking this tack? Why now? Because all indications are that the administration is going to approve the pipeline. The environmentalist left loathes the project and has mounted a sustained effort this year to force the administration to reject it, going so far as to sanction civil disobedience and telling activists to get “militant.”

They apparently failed. A State Department study claimed the project would have no adverse environmental impact and would create 42,100 jobs (albeit mostly temporary construction jobs). Vice President Biden appeared to confirm that they were going to approve it earlier this month when he told a Sierra Club activist that he was the only person in the administration opposed to Keystone. Some Republican lawmakers claimed that Obama himself said during a private meeting he would approve it.

OFA itself, as the National Journal notes, is scrupulously neutral on the issue:

One issue on which Organizing for Action has not engaged: the Keystone XL pipeline. While a massive grassroots environmental movement has grown up around urging President Obama to reject the pipeline, which would import heavily carbon-polluting tar sands oil from Canada, OFA hasn’t voiced a view on the pipeline. People close to the president say they believe he’ll approve the controversial project, and OFA has taken heavy criticism from environmental groups and green-minded donors for holding back its organizational muscle on the issue.

The White House has been nevertheless sensitive to pressure from environmentalists on this. When Republicans tried last year to force the issue by attaching approval to a budget bill, Obama rejected it, getting cheers from the environmentalists. But even then he was careful to say: “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline.” The White House issued a similar statement earlier this month in response to another GOP attempt to force the issue. That statement also noted that the State Department “is working diligently to complete the permit decision process” for Keystone, making the GOP’s bill “unnecessary.”

That would explain OFA’s sucking up to environmentalists: It is trying to distract them from the fact that Obama is gearing up to OK it. Earlier this year an anonymous administration official told Reuters a decision was likely by June, though they’ve postponed that many times in the past. If they are still planning an announcement in June, that would explain why OFA  is acting now.

Will it work? Environmentalists have been deeply skeptical of OFA’s efforts, BuzzFeed reports:

Despite launching a national climate change campaign, OFA has come under fire from progressives because it has refused to become involved in the fight over the pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast for refinement. Instead, their new effort will target members of Congress who deny the science behind global warming.

Although OFA has made clear it won’t weigh in on the controversial project until Obama’s administration does, activists complain that’s not good enough.

With several actions this week — a 500-person anti-Keystone rally outside the president’s Manhattan fundraiser Monday, and a call for advocates to storm OFA planning sessions with questions about the pipeline — the progressive community hopes to push OFA to not only start talking Keystone, but to pressure the White House to reject it.

Eddie Scher, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said it was only a matter of time before activists push OFA to more directly address the issue. “They’re gonna have to deal with it. We’re all gonna have to deal with this one,” said Scher. “This is the front line right now in this fight, and you can’t ignore it. You have to grapple with it, and there’s no subtle way out of it.”

 

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