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GOP played Keystone card, lost

By Maria Cardona, CNN Contributor
February 22, 2012 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner and House GOP leaders discuss President Obama's rejection of the Keystone bid
Speaker John Boehner and House GOP leaders discuss President Obama's rejection of the Keystone bid
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona: GOP anger over Keystone cancellation was for show and of their own making
  • She says GOP wanted to use issue to please Big Oil backers, score points against Obama
  • She says promise of jobs was misrepresented, environmental concerns not addressed
  • Cardona: Obama called GOP bluff, delayed project; this was right thing to do

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- If you missed the press conference after the State Department announcement that the Keystone XL pipeline had been canceled, you missed a heck of a show.

House Speaker John Boehner was mad. And the Republican lawmakers behind him were furious. Over and over, Boehner and the gang asked angrily "What happened?" knowing full well that the answer was, well ... them.

Despite their indignation, everyone on that stage knew their actions forced the cancellation of the pipeline.

For those of us who follow Congress, their feigned indignation was more akin to that of a spoiled child throwing a fit when things don't go his way, and yet another example of why people hate Congress.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

The Keystone XL pipeline was proposed to bring bitumen, a low grade Canadian pseudo oil that is strip mined out of the sandy soil in Canada's Alberta province (it is also referred to as "tar sands" oil and "oil sands") all the way down to Houston. That 1,700-mile route crosses the Canadian-U.S. border, which means the president has to approve the project. Because of the dirty nature of the oil, it has been a long process to evaluate the merits and safety of the project.

Nebraskans were concerned about the route through a sensitive portion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is central to the region's agriculture. Environmentalists hate bitumen because it has more greenhouse gas pollution associated with it than normal oil and there have been troubling questions raised about safe transportation of the new, highly corrosive forms of the oil that would run through the pipeline.

The oil industry, on the other hand, desperately wants the pipeline because Canada's oil is largely stuck in the Midwest, where it has to be sold at a discount. The pipeline gives them new access to foreign markets and the ability to sell their oil for more money: win-win for them!

When prospects for the project looked bad, the Republicans got involved. They stepped in on behalf of their big campaign donors in the oil industry and tried to score on an issue they believe they could use against the president.

What followed was a campaign of misinformation to convince the public that the pipeline was a massive public service from Big Oil that would create loads of jobs while also weaning us from Middle Eastern oil, filling our tanks with fuel from our friendly neighbors. Both couldn't be further from the truth.

Still, truth is a scarce commodity these days, and even on Wednesday, Boehner kept claiming the project would have brought 20,000 jobs, with others saying it would be hundreds of thousands -- all even as the pipeline builders themselves admitted that the permanent jobs would number only in the hundreds (the State Department puts that number at 20 -- ouch). With unemployment at 8.5%, this is about the most cynical way I can imagine to sell a project to America, especially when you know the numbers are wrong.

Also unmentioned? The fact that much of the oil coming out of Keystone XL will not end up in American gas tanks, meaning that it won't offset our ongoing and unfortunate reliance on the Middle East for oil.

The Obama administration understands that. So when the president announced that a decision on the project would be delayed until 2013, the GOP went into overdrive, passing a law that forced the president to make a decision on the project within 60 days, despite the fact that a map of the pipeline route doesn't even exist, making a reasonable decision impossible.

They seemed convinced they had Obama cornered. They were wrong. The Obama administration would not be bullied. So Wednesday, the president laid the blame for canceling the pipeline exactly where it should be - with Congress. Both he and the State Department made clear that this was what would happen if an arbitrary deadline were attached to the project. And he followed through with the eminently reasonable decision to deny approval of the project.

Reasonable decisions in Washington? Now that, not theatrics, is what we need more of.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.

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