Was Keystone The Wrong Fight?

Chait nods:

The Keystone movement developed in 2011, when environmentalists needed a cause to replace the failed cap-and-trade bill. It was only immediately following the 2012 election that the NRDC laid out a plan by which the EPA could effectively tackle existing power plants, the last big repository of unregulated emissions. The road map to solving climate change is far from certain: It involves writing a regulatory scheme to reign in existing power plants, surviving a legal challenge, and then, having credibly committed the U.S. to meeting Copenhagen standards, wrangling India, China, and others into a workable international treaty.

That plan is far from certain. But Keystone won’t affect the outcome much one way or the other. If Obama pulls off the EPA plan, then the U.S. can hit its emissions target even if it builds the pipeline. If he doesn’t, it won’t hit the target, even if it kills the pipeline.

Scott Lemieux pushes back:

There’s another possibility — a victory (or anger over a loss) might be something you can build on.  In the larger scheme of things segregated buses in Birmingham were a fairly minor Jim Crow injustice, but the successful opposition to it helped build a movement that could effectively oppose disenfranchisement, employment discrimination, etc. etc.

Kilgore makes a version of the same argument:

[T]he question is whether the passion generated by the fight against Keystone XL was available for more salient but abstract battles, and was thus robbed from it. At Grist, Dave Roberts asked and answered that question back in February of 2012 … While Chait regards the opportunity costs of emphasizing Keystone XL to the exclusion of other environmental issues as huge, Roberts argued they are virtually non-existent, and indeed, a successful (or perhaps even unsuccessful) fight against the pipeline could create the foundation for future environmental activism.

Pierce adds:

The fight against the pipeline began as a citizen’s movement because the people most directly affected by the project saw that the skids already were greased. It has been a citizen’s movement ever since. Chait’s argument for the EPA regulations as a more important goal for environmentalists is interesting, but off the point.  The government can fight two important environmental battles at once; in fact, as the years go by, and climate change gets worse, it’s going to have to. Go to Nebraska, Jon. Talk to the people there who have lost their land. Talk to the people who have been sold out by their elected leaders. Talk to the people who have been lied to, and who have lost control of a good part of their lives. Then tell me why this pipeline is the wrong fight at the wrong time.

The NYT reported today that “even if President Obama rejects the pipeline, it might not matter much” because oil “companies are already building rail terminals to deliver oil from western Canada to the United States, and even to Asia.”