The oil industry, which has previously worked behind the scenes on urging a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, is now openly threatening the President, who must decide by February 21 to accept or deny a permit for the project.

The oil industry’s top lobbyist warned the Obama administration Wednesday to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline or face “huge political consequences” in an election year.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said it would be a “huge mistake” for President Barack Obama to reject the 1,700-mile, Canada-to-Texas pipeline. Obama faces a Feb. 21 deadline to decide whether the $7 billion pipeline is in the national interest.

“Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest,” Gerard said at the trade association’s annual “State of American Energy” event. “A determination to decide anything less than that I believe will have huge political consequences.”

We know that Big Oil has worked in conjunction with several unions to push the tar sands pipeline, occasionally in incredibly dishonest ways. Now, the lobbyists are making their threats clear: they will run ads in the Presidential election and in Senate races accusing those not supportive of the pipeline of ruining America and destroying jobs.

Of course, liberal environmental groups have used their leverage throughout this debate as well, claiming that they would make permitting of the pipeline an election issue. So the President has to choose between Big Oil and his base. We’ve seen in recent weeks that, given the election year, the base has received more support. And in this case, the State Department has already said that a 60-day deadline for permitting the project, which doesn’t even have a confirmed route yet, would force them to deny the permit. So I still maintain that the Republicans want the issue more than the pipeline, and they pressed this forward knowing full well that the permit would be rejected. There’s a conceit in this article that the President would “risk alienating organized labor” by denying the permit, but labor as a whole doesn’t support the project. We’re mainly talking about the Building Trades and the Teamsters. And the NLRB recess appointments have already delighted labor on a bigger issue than Keystone XL.

This threat should be laughed off, and I predict it will be. It’s not like the oil industry would run glorifying ads for non-Landrieu Democrats if the permit were approved.

David Dayen

David Dayen