President Obama Doubles Down on Clean Energy

I just finished watching the GOP primary debate in South Carolina. It was a pretty entertaining two hours which kicked off with Newt Gingrich admonishing CNN for daring ask a question about his personal question (um, didn’t he try to impeach a President over something personal?) and ended with all candidates agreeing that any of them would be better then the guy in office now. But what I found most interesting was not what they talked about – but what was missing. Where was energy?

Governor Romney made one attempt to talk energy when trying to deflect criticism for not releasing his taxes but besides that, there wasn’t a lot of talk about what will be a central part of our future.

President Obama demonstrated bold leadership this week when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. Some are trying to marginalize the Keystone decision by saying Obama made it to please wacko environmentalists. Newt Gingrich went so far as to say, “President Obama has made it clear once again that he is committed to Saul Alinksy radicalism at the expense of working Americans.”

The trouble is that the people lined up against the pipeline don’t fit into a radical box. Republican lawmakers in Nebraska, ranchers and farmers from the Heartland, security hawks in the Armed Forces, and religious leaders from across the country don’t count themselves among the extreme left. They are simply Americans who don’t think a dirty pipeline to export Canadian oil to Asia markets is in our national interest.

GOP leaders have also tried to turn the Keystone decision into a jobs issue, but they can’t even agree on the numbers. One industry-funded study being quoted was so far-reaching that it includes new jobs for dancers and choreographers in its tally. Here’s the number that matters most: the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, said in sworn testimony the project will only generate “hundreds” of permanent jobs.

Since the jobs numbers turned out to be thin, some lawmakers have tried to claim the pipeline would lower gas prices. But by diverting Canadian oil that would otherwise go to the Midwest, TransCanada has admitted the pipeline would increase the price Americans pay for Canadian oil by $3.9 billion. The other interesting thing is that the price of gas – when DOWN after the Keystone XL pipeline was rejected this week.

Next GOP leaders tried to position the Keystone decision as a sign he can’t stand up to his base. But even some pipeline supporters view Obama’s choice as a matter of fair play. They dislike that Republicans in Congress wanted Obama to ignore the extensive review process required by law for major infrastructure projects and approve a pipeline whose route hasn’t yet been confirmed—all within 60 days.

Governor Schweitzer told MSNBC, “As chief executive of Montana, if they ask me to approve of a pipeline with an incomplete application, I would have to reject it and I am the biggest proponent of this pipeline in America. These jokers in Congress that are trying to force the president to approve an incomplete application are just making mischief.”

What has impressed me most was that even as the Republican leaders were trying every argument they could, Obama doubled down. The same day he announced the Keystone decision he released his first 2012 campaign ad, and the topic was clean energy. It lays out the administration’s energy achievements, but it also positions clean energy as the path to the future.

In the end, that’s why Republicans and Democrats are fighting to win the energy messaging war in this race. They know energy is represents the trifecta of campaign-friendly values: patriotism, independence, and jobs.

The current Republican field’s collective vision for energy adds the value of conservatism — more of the same fossil fuels we have used for the past 100 years. Obama’s vision for energy layers on the values of ingenuity, innovation, leadership, and dominance in global markets. The dirty Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t have a place in the vision, and by rejecting, Obama has not only confirmed his clean energy leadership, but he has laid claim to powerful American values.